Eduardo Nunez was a conundrum all season long. He showed some promise with the bat, and jump-started this homer-happy team’s ability to do some damage on the bases. While New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has consistently talked about how valuable Nunez is to the team, so much so that the he recently shot down hope of moving him to another position in order to maintain his value at shortstop. However, to say Nunez is a defensively-challenged player is to put it mildly. After watching 15 years of Derek Jeter‘s smooth play at the position, it is understandably unnerving to think of Nunez as the heir apparent to The Captain. But could it be possible that Nunez can contribute to the Yankees in 2013, in one way or another?
First, let’s take a look at Nunez’s current value. In roughly 500 plate appearances, he has a slash line of .272/.318/.384. Further, for a player who has a fairly average line, and considering his position, he does have some power with a .112 ISO. Most importantly, Nunez’s value on the bases is heightened by his speed. He has 38 stolen bases. However, that is really only one side of NunEEEEEEE, as we all know.
Every ground ball hit Nunez’s way becomes an adventure and a half. Nunez’s Rtot/year for his career at shortstop (541.2 innings), or the number of runs above/below average the player was worth on a scale of 1,200 innings, is a dismal -17. That said, it is worth noting that Nunez does have greater range than Jeter, thus exposing him to more potential plays that can result in an error. Unfortunately some of those balls he got to were then thrown away. Interestingly, though, Nunez still managed a WAR of 0.3 this season courtesy of his 0.5 oWAR. Effectively, Nunez has all of the ability on paper to potentially be an everyday player (again, on paper, folks, don’t jump me just yet), but none of it has come together to any degree of consistency or success as an regular on the field.
Despite his deficiencies Nunez has some value with his bat. He could add to the Yankees in 2013 in being a platoon-DH. Unlike some other managers, Joe Girardi uses that spot in the lineup to frequently rest his older players or give guys at-bats while getting them off their feet (as opposed to David Ortiz being the full-time DH in Boston). It is unlikely that Andruw Jones will return in 2013, leaving a void there; also, Raul Ibanez wouldn’t be hitting as DH against left-handed pitching. Nunez can contribute offensively given his noted ability to add an additional speed element to the offense while staying off the field—something I am sure will bring much relief for Yankees fans.
The other option would be to try and package Nunez as part of a trade. I don’t think he’d be the focal point, but I think he would be a nice addition to a deal. This could be especially true for a team that is in need of an upgrade, or looking to rebuild in some way. It’s possible Nunez could afford some help at a cost-effective price, despite his defensive flaws. This would be similar to how the Yankees handled Jesus Montero. Though projected to be a much better hitter than Nunez, Montero was moved last winter for Michael Pineda despite lingering questions about whether the prospect was an everyday catcher in the big leagues.
Moving Nunez would not leave the Yankees short-handed as Jayson Nix was a more than serviceable backup for Jeter, and is much more sure-handed in the field. Plus, with Jeter still maintaining control of the position for the foreseeable future, it might not make sense to allow Nunez to continue in the minors or sit on the bench, or expose him to more ridicule in comparison to Jeter.
Either via a trade or proper usage, Eduardo Nunez could be of value to the Yankees moving forward. Of course, it’s up to Cashman & Company to figure out how, but it might turn out that Nunez would be much more valuable to the future of the team than anyone previously thought.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.