The Yankees have a large hole to fill at the hot corner after Alex Rodriguez‘s forced one-year sabbatical. The team did not make a huge move, but brought in some veteran free agents and career minor leaguers to fill the void. What the Yankees really need is for their homegrown talent, Eduardo Nunez to finally come of age and grab a hold of the starting third base job.
Here’s what we know about Nunez. He put up respectable numbers in his two full seasons in the minor leagues where he averaged 7 HRs, 53 RBI, 21 SBs, with a .306 batting average and a .345 OBP. His four-year tenure in the bigs has been a roller coaster totaling a mere 752 career at-bats over 270 career games. Over those four years he has played 2B, SS, 3B, RF, LF and DH, so he has never really had a “home” position. Last season, with Jeter and A-Rod missing a majority of the year, he had a prime opportunity to step up and capture regular playing time, but injuries of his own held him back. Yankee fans are well aware that the biggest knock on Nunez is his glove as evidenced by a career .940 fielding percentage.
So why do the Yankees need him to succeed so badly and be the one who steps up to replace Alex Rodriguez in 2014? Here are three reasons how Nunez would greatly benefit the Yankees as their everyday third baseman:
1. He’s young and cheap.
The Yankees brought in veteran Kelly Johnson to compete for the third base job. Johnson is costing the Yanks $3 million dollars and has entered the declining years of his career. Nunez is 26 and costing the Yankees just over $500K. Although he is arbitration-eligible next season, he is under contract until 2018. If he can begin to reach his potential now, then that solves a long-term problem.
2. The other options at third are a liability.
As previously mentioned, Kelly Johnson is in the downward parts of his career. He has leveled off offensively. Back-to-back seasons of 16 HRs are admirable, but his sub .240 average and declining OBP are worrisome. Scott Sizemore is young and has some decent pop in his bat, but he is coming off back-to-back ACL tears and two lost seasons. Sizemore seems more suited for a utility bench role as he returns to game form. Dean Anna, a 27 year-old minor leaguer snatched from the Padres organization, has yet to play an inning in the bigs. He does have the ability to hit for average and plays modest defense, but he will definitely need some more work before claiming the job.
3. Nunez can only get better.
His defense clearly has room to improve. A full offseason working at one position can help take Nunez to the next level. His offense on the big league level hasn’t caught up with what he did at the minor league level, where he hit for average, got on base, and stole a few handful of bases. If the Yankees take away the uncertainty of where he may play and the pressure of “replacing” an A-Rod or Jeter it could give the youngster a chance to develop into a long-term player.
Over the last ten years, Brett Gardner is now the only homegrown Yankee to crack and stay in the line-up. It is Eduardo Nunez’s turn to step up and become the 2014 starting third baseman for the Yankees.