Replacing Nunez to strengthen the lineup

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The 2011 Yankees have a number of flaws, but the bench isn’t one of them. At the start of the season they featured their deepest bench in years, and even with Eric Chavez on the DL they still have a quality cast of reserves. Once Chavez returns they’ll have that killer bench back and can focus on improving the weaker aspects of the team. Of course, the preceding statement makes two assumptions: 1) That Chavez makes it back in the next few weeks, and 2) That he stays healthy after returning. As anyone familiar with Chavez’s injury history knows, neither is a guarantee.

While there’s nothing wrong with using Chris Dickerson, or even Justin Maxwell, to fill Chavez’s bench spot, it does create a somewhat less flexible situation. Currently, Eduardo Nunez is getting a good helping of starts against left-handed pitching, while either Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter takes a half day off at DH. This isn’t a bad idea by any means; both Jeter and A-Rod could use the breather, and it’s hardly a bad idea to play Nunez against opposite-handed pitching. Still, he’s not the ideal guy to be taking all those at-bats.

At Pinstriped Bible, Steven Goldman discussed the “self-defeating” Nunez and his role on the team. One of this lines a bit further down in the article caught my attention: “‘Hard-hitting reserve infielder’ is almost an automatic contradiction in terms.” This is an argument that I often raise when defending a weak Yankees bench. There aren’t many quality reserves to begin with. Why would one of them want to play behind Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Derek Jeter? That leaves the Yankees two avenues for finding quality bench players: trades and development. While I applaud the development angle with Nunez, they might find some success when looking outside the organization.

Yesterday Mike looked at the possibility of a Jose Reyes trade. Of course, when you trade for Jose Reyes he’s a starter, and the Yankees already have a starting shortstop. He might not be the best offensively, and he might be a shell of his former self at the plate, but it’s not as though the Yankees can simply trade for a shortstop and replace him. But what if they were to trade for a lesser infielder — someone who can give both A-Rod and Jeter days at DH, while taking a late-inning defensive role? There is one possibly available player for that.

The Dodgers, under .500 and in a tough financial situation, probably want to trim a sizable portion of their $120 million payroll. No one on the team makes more this year than Rafael Furcal. The Dodgers would help their situation by trading him and what remains of his $13 million 2011 salary. Not many teams would be willing to eat that kind of money for a mid-season acquisition, but the Yankees aren’t like other teams. They figure to have a good chunk of spare change set aside for deadline acquisitions. While pitching is the priority, they could do worse than picking up Furcal to help keep Jeter and A-Rod fresh through the second half.

At this point, Furcal’s stat sheet is a bit misleading. He got off to a slow start, though that easily could have been injury related. He returned at the end of May, and has heated up in his past few games, going 8 for his last 17 with a homer. If he rebounds to produce something resembling his normal numbers, he’ll be of much better use than Nunez in the backup infield role. And, if worse comes to worst, he’s a much better full-time fill-in.

(As a bonus, perhaps taking on Furcal could open an opportunity for the Yankees to also acquire the Dodgers second highest paid player, Hiroki Kuroda. But that’s the subject of a different post.)

Perhaps spending $6 million on a backup infielder isn’t the best use of the Yankees’ resources. They have other areas they can improve, and they don’t have an infinite pool of money. But I’m presuming that, because of the off-season disagreement over Rafael Soriano, that Cashman has a little more wiggle room than he would have otherwise. Furcal certainly isn’t the first choice; he’s probably not in the top five. He’s more of the deadline-day, nothing else has panned out kind of move. Yet his bat and his glove can provide some benefit to the Yankees’ lineup. With a Dodgers team likely to sell at a low cost in prospects, he’s someone the Yanks should keep their eyes on, if only as Plan Z.

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  • Brian

    But I like Nunez.

  • nsalem

    In a tight pennant race or playoff scenario situation I would hope the Yankee’s choose the best defensive player available as their main criteria. Offense from our spare infielder is a luxury that would be nice but we can live with out.

    • Ted Nelson

      Why is defense from the utility infielder more important than offense in your opinion? I see that argument a lot and I don’t get it.

      • Bpdelia

        Ha. Exactly. I always think that. If it’s fine to stress offense in your starters why not reserves? Especially when you have players (arod, jeter) who for ego reasons can not be defensively replaced. when was the last time jeter was defensively replaced barring injury or blowout.

        This team is, and foyr some time has been, built on offense. In fact this team need backups who can hit because they rely on production from their infielders.

        If you want defense, ramiro pena is but a phone call away and he, costs you nothing.

        Are you going to defensively replace as rod or cano in a close game anf lose those bats? Ot who is telling jeter hes being, replaced?

        Dude is still batting leafoff for gods sake because no one wants to hurt his dang pride.

  • Kiko Jones

    [S]pending $6 million on a backup infielder isn’t the best use of the Yankees’ resources.


  • infernoscurse

    Isn’t furcal injury prone also? And who plays 2b when cano gets a day off? I. Don’t have a problem with nunez being the backup. Furcal just seems like a waste of trading chips that might help us down the road for someone who would help the team longterm.

    • Clay Bellinger

      “And who plays 2b when cano gets a day off?”

      Obviously Furcal.

    • Crime Dog

      Also when’s the last time Cano sat a game?

      • nsalem

        Cano has started at 2b in all but 23 games since 2007.

  • Swanson

    $6 million for a backup infielder? Surely, they have more pressing needs.

  • jack

    lets just to a K-rod, Beltran, Reyes for posada and jeter trade. I think its fair, OK we MIGHT have to throw in Nunez

  • David, Jr.

    “but it’s not as though the Yankees can simply trade for a shortstop and replace him.” It is kind of like they can’t because they won’t. Jeter is a given, like a statue out in front of the stadium. Therefore, particularly when you think of the two or three years following this one, the backup infielder becomes extra important. Like you say, that person has to be a good fielder. I like Nunez, believing that not much needs to be fixed to make for a good player, but he is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The article makes an excellent point, and Furcal definitely fits the mold of what they need.

  • dan l

    If Furcal can actually hit right handed pitching, relievers and at night then it’s a good idea.

  • Stultus Magnus

    What about getting rid of Cevelli to strengthen the line-up? Jorge can catch once a week. And, sure, replace Nunez while you’re at it…

    • nsalem

      If they thought Jorge could catch once or twice a week Cervelli wouldn’t be here in the first place. He was awful at the end of last year and now he’s almost another year down the line. I don’t think anyone who cares about him wants to ever see him take another hard shot to the head again.

      • LarryM.,Fl.

        Too many hits to the head for Posada I cringe with his reaction.

    • Clay Bellinger

      At this point, how much of a lineup improvement would Posada provide over Cervelli?

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Posada, 2011: 158 PA, .169/.285/.338
        Cervelli, 2011: 31 PA, .192/.267/.346

        • Crime Dog

          Yeah but Posada has the track record, and I’m not talking about 05 Posada I’m talking even ’10 Sada. I don’t think its too much of a reach for Posada to hit like ’10 Posada the rest of the way vs Righties. I’m still holding out hope.

  • V

    We got 99 problems but a bench ain’t one.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Larry King, you’ve been married eight times, EIGHT TIMES! You’ve got 99 problems, and bitches are all of them. (NSFW)

  • James A

    Omar Vizquel would be a nice little half year rental, although I don’t think Ozzie would want to get rid of him and the Yankees are old jokes would get even worse. Of course Omar has no power, and he isn’t the stolen base threat that Nunez (or Furcal) is, and his defense isn’t what it used to be, but at least we wouldn’t have to hold our breaths every time he threw to first, he could teach Nunez and Pena a thing or two, he handles the bat well, and he would cost a lot less. Actually as I look at his fangraphs page this seems like a bad idea, given he’s been horrible at third base the last two years. Maybe they should bring Jerry Hairston Jr back

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    I do not like the idea of the trade for Furcal. If as the article indicates the Yankees don’t have and endless pit of money becuase they do pay a 40% premium on every salary inherited. Nunez is in the perfect spot to learn the infield. Replacing Jeter, Arod and Cano once a week is ideal. Posada is the player to give up AB’s to give to Nunez in the lineup. Sooner or later Arod and Jeter will need more than a day. It maybe an unofficial few days off with a strain or whatever injury. Nunez can play and Cashman needs to follow his belief in developing talent from within. Its rewarding, sends a message to the young guys and allows for the money to be spent in those situations where the farm just doesn’t grow that type of player needed.

    We need pitching. Its all about pitching. Spend the money on pitching.
    Some team is going to salary dump a SP or RP and we should be there ready to catch this pitcher.

  • Russelling

    Nunez has potential. Replacing a rookie who can play 3 infield positions is a bad idea. Yes, he’s been shaky in the field, but he’s a rookie, and that’s his right. It’s a Yankee mentality to rarely let any young player grow into a better one, but I hope they give this kid a fair shake.

  • Russelling

    If anything, the Yanks should try to offer offense to San Francisco and get themselves a frontline starter. Improving the line up. That’s funny stuff.

  • A-Rod’s Wingman

    Needless to say I hate this idea. I’m not Nuñez’s biggest fan by any stretch, but he’s a fast infielder that has a bit of power in his bat. Yes his throwing needs to improve, but I’m not convinced that Furcál can out hit him over the course of a season. If the Yankees were to acquire an expensive former all star in the twilight of his career I’d prefer it to be Carlos Beltran.

  • Ray R

    Nunez has never shown great throwing accuracy at any level, but he has the tools to be more than adequate for a guy getting 10-15 ab’sa week. Furcal doesn’t have much more range than Jeter and sucks at 2d or 3d. Plus,Nunez can play LF in a pinch. This o’s one case where no trade is the best option.

  • Ted Nelson

    Furcal has more short-term upside, but in the most likely case I don’t think he’s a big upgrade over Nunez right now. In 2010 he had a .366 wOBA, sure, but the two previous seasons he was at .316 and .311. He’s below average defensively on his career.

    If Chavez is healthy, the Nunez/Furcal role is also reduced that much more. You’re mostly backing up Jeter now, with the occasional game off for Cano.

    • A-Rod’s Wingman

      I agree with this, Ted. I haven’t watched him play in god knows how long, but I’d be willing to bet that he’d still have the best INF arm on the team…but that’s about it. Nuñez is having a solid year, he looks like he might be able stick around as the back up infielder for the future. If a team views him a as a starter and is willing to give up something of significance, then obviously trade him and look to Furcal as the back up…but that’s about it.

  • forensic

    Furcal has 10-5 rights. Not so sure he would accept a trade to sit on the bench most of the time, but I guess you never know.