By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
As the Red Sox approached the 2017 non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, the topic that had dominated headlines and sports talk radio the entire season was: “Who will the Red Sox trade for to play third base?” Pablo Sandoval mercifully had the book closed on his tenure in Boston once he was designated for assignment by President Dave Dombrowski.
Mike Moustakas was among one of the fan’s favorite for Dombrowski to pursue as the deadline approached, but unfortunately the Kansas City Royals had heated up and were content to make one last shot at a deep playoff run. All of their core players were about to hit free agency, and they had one of the worst farm systems in the majors. So who could blame them?
On July 25th as the evening approached midnight, word had spread through social media that Eduardo Nunez was on “hug watch.” Hug watch typically means a player could be mere moments from getting traded. In recent years MLB players who have been dealt will suddenly start hugging their teammates in the middle of an inning due to suddenly being informed they had in fact been traded. That moment did come for Eduardo Nunez that Tuesday evening as the Giants were playing at home on the west coast. Many Red Sox fans had gone to bed and learned of the trade early the following morning. My initial reaction to the Nunez signing was that although it was a step in the right direction, would it be enough? The Red Sox definitely needed a power hitter, so ideally another move would hopefully follow.
From the moment he stepped on the field wearing number 36, Nunez proved to the be the shot in the arm the Red Sox needed. In the final two months he hit eight home runs with a slashline of .321/.353./.539, and nearly a .900 OPS. His energy invigorated a seemingly punchless Boston lineup. So here are a few reasons it is absolutely imperative Nunez be brought back:
1 – What if Rafael Devers needs to be optioned back to Pawtucket?
I am personally fairly encouraged that Devers can handle major league lineups an entire 162 games next year, but it would still be extremely reckless to not have a solid bat on the hot corner as a “fall back option.” If you think about it, exactly what would the plan be if this takes place? It’s a scary thought. Marco Hernandez or Brock Holt would likely be the first man up. But neither of them are impact players, nor the type you want to “go to war with.” Kyle Schwarber was the star of the 2016 World Series, deemed untouchable in an Aroldis Chapman trade, and even HE was optioned to AAA during the 2017 season. Devers’ sample size is simply too small to leave yourself with no effective options. It happens, we have all seen it, and we have all taken prospects for granted.
2 – At present, the Red Sox do not have a second baseman to start the season
Dustin Pedroia is expected to be on the shelf for at least the first six weeks of the season. Given his injury history and the fact that same knee was repaired last off season with the injury recurring only weeks into the 2017 season, it would be naive to again leave yourself thin at second base. It was commonly agreed among Red Sox fans that Pedroia would likely have a shorter career based on the aggressive nature he plays the game. Kevin Youkilis and Nomar Garciaparra spent the bulk of their careers on the Fenway infield, and ended up retiring at ages 34 and 35 respectively. Pedroia is entering his age 34 season, and common sense will tell you that he won’t be gaining any durability as he ages further. Nunez is nowhere near the defender that Pedroia is, but he’s adequate and will buy the Red Sox some extra time if they need it.
3- The ultimate utility man
More so than any other option currently on the Red Sox roster, Nunez provides a little more pop in his bat. He can play virtually anywhere throughout the infield, and either corner in the outfield. Assuming his knee is healthy, he can also be hell on the base paths. Nunez stole 24 bases last season, and a career high 40 during the 2016 season. He is also a viable lead off hitter, or even out of the two hole. The Red Sox with a great insurance policy by signing Nunez should anything unforseen take place. There isn’t a roster in the major leagues that can ever have enough depth.
In closing: It’s no secret the Red Sox clubhouse was somewhat of a clown show in 2017. His presence alone brings serious value in terms of leadership. Nunez and Devers are both native Dominicans, and Nunez was extremely influential towards Devers in a mentor type role, which helped guide the rookie through the second half of last season. Hanley Ramirez is also a native of their country, but I think we can all agree he doesn’t need to be mentoring any prospects!
Another important dynamic is the fact that Nunez is battle tested throughout big markets. He quickly passed the test last season at Fenway, but many people forget he spent four years in the Bronx with the Yankees.
I was also surprised Dombrowski chose to sign Moreland over Nunez since he is less versatile. Barring a trade involving Hanley Ramirez, the Red Sox are not very versatile with the log jam they have between first base and DH. Not to mention a possible (and hopeful) signing of J.D. Martinez will undoubtedly further complicate this situation. Assuming Nunez’ knee would be healed by spring training, he was much higher on my wishlist than Moreland was.
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