Could Jeter’s successor already be on the Yankees’ roster?

Raul's Clean Slate
Yankee prospects and controlling the controllables

Every incarnation of the Yankees has its polarizing players. For some reason, swaths of fans flock to disparage certain players, while others rush to their defenses. In the mid-00s A-Rod was perhaps the most polarizing player on the Yankees. Elite player? Sure. But he was portrayed as a bad teammate — one who, according to so many fans, would never win a World Series with the Yankees. While A-Rod is still polarizing in some ways, it’s not nearly to the level it was before 2009. Now fans are out to fry smaller fish.

While Nick Swisher has his detractors, he is not the most polarizing player on the Yankees. No, that distinction belongs to Eduardo Nunez, a mere utility infielder. His potential — Baseball America ranked him their No. 8 Yankees prospect before last season — tantalizes some. His on-field blunders, including 20 errors in under 1,000 defensive innings last season, infuriates others. There appears to be little gray area in between.

Love him or hate him, though, the Yankees clearly think he can be part of their future. They’re trying to get him as much playing time as possible this year, using their lack of a regular DH to rotate players and get Nunez time in the field. The idea is to determine his value to them in the future, which they cannot do if he’s playing in AAA or getting irregular reps in the majors. For his part, Nunez is making the most of the opportunity.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dan Barbarisi writes about Nunez’s desire to succeed Derek Jeter as the Yankees’ everyday shortstop. He certainly gave his all this off-season, joining Robinson Cano bright and early for all-day workouts. In the process Cano has altered Nunez’s view of what it takes to be a big leaguer. For Nunez — whom Barbarisi describes as having “physical ability, smarts and talent” — it could be just the wake-up call he needs to take the next step.

The story actually comes full-circle in terms of polarizing Yankees. A-Rod, who polarized like none other early in his Yankees career, once took a young Cano under his wing. At a time when Cano’s focus was waning, A-Rod showed him the path to greatness. Cano has since put in his work, and the results are visible. Now Cano has turned his own attentions towards Nunez. Can Cano have the same effect on his protege as A-Rod had on his?

Replacing Jeter is no small task. There’s not only the legendary shoes that Nunez has to step into, but there is the sheer ability that Jeter possesses even to this day. His skills in decline, Jeter has figured out a way to hit better than most of his peers at an age when most of them have declined to the point of on-field uselessness. Nunez’s hard work doesn’t guarantee his ability to step into that role, but it does give him another leg up. He’ll need every one of them if he’s to one day become the Yankees’ starting shortstop.

Ben’s Take: I read the Barbarisi article this morning and had a few thoughts of my own considering the way last night’s game played out. Joe Girardi removed A-Rod for Nunez as a pinch-runner in the 8th, and Nunez took over at third base in the 8th. He nearly threw away a grounder during the Orioles’ half of the inning. When the Yankees took the lead in the 10th, Girardi removed Nunez for Eric Chavez, a superior fielder.

On the one hand, the move made sense. Chavez in his prime was a Gold Glove third baseman with a stellar arm, and he’s the guy you would want manning the hot corner when outs are at a premium. On the other hand, the Yankees removed their primary back-up infielder for defensive purposes late in the game last night. I don’t think I had ever seen that happen before.

To me, then, the question becomes: What do you do with Eduardo Nunez? The Yanks clearly have high hopes for the future, and he has a lot of raw ability. Yet, he’s become a worrisome liability in the field, not quite at the Chuck Knoblauch level but not a guy who has earned late-inning trust. The Yanks want to keep him at the Big League level, but just maybe he’d be better off playing the infield everyday in the minors while working on his throwing. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to Nunez or the Yanks.

Raul's Clean Slate
Yankee prospects and controlling the controllables
  • Raza

    Honestly, I don’t see him as a future everyday player.

  • Mike Axisa

    I don’t think a trip to minors would hurt. He’s played thousands of innings down there and hasn’t improved his defense much, if at all. If he’s going to make big league throws, he’s going to have to learn to do it in the big leagues. The game is just quicker.

    • Mike Axisa

      And by hurt I mean help.

      • ROBTEN

        That’s what I’ve been saying.

        Chris Brown

        • jsbrendog

          ::golf clap::

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Now there’s a DV joke actually done right. Not easy to do.

          • oj

            I tried but couldn’t do it right.

  • Monterowasdinero

    I get frustrated with him but I am in his corner. What better opportunity to learn and mature than to back up Jeter, Arod and Cano? These 3 guys are HoFers (2 definite, 1 likely). There is going to be drop off. Nunez is younger, faster and alot cheaper than all of them. How would Jeter do playing 2nd or 3rd and playing twice a week? I say we take the growing pains at 500K a year. He does alot of good stuff too which, in time, will outweigh the bad by increasing margins.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Yeah. Pretty much how I feel. I don’t think there’s some Sax-ian or Knoublach-ish mental block going on here. I think he just needs to calm the hell down and try not to make magic every time.

      The bat is fine. If the defense can follow, I have no problem with him playing the super-sub now and getting a crack at the role later. That doesn’t ignore the fact that blunders are frustrating as hell.

      Now, if someone thinks he can be their starting SS now and is willing to make a good offer, I’m not tied to waiting and seeing with him.

  • JohnC

    I actually see him more as Swisher’s successor in the outfield than Jeter’s. His glove seems ok. Its his throwing 98% of the time that is adventurous. Think he’d be better in the outfield with his speed and range

    • handtius

      his lack of power might kill that idea, unless he starts popping 20 a year.

    • ROBTEN

      His bad doesn’t play in RF; he’d be the worst hitting outfielder in the AL.

      If we take the numbers from the past two years, he’d have the second lowest wOBA and lowest wRC+ among RF.

      He might be a low-hitting shortstop–he’d still be toward the bottom of the pack as a starter, but it’s not a terribly offensive bunch in general right now–but he’d be an awful hitting right fielder. Cost or no cost, I still think they’d be able to find a better replacement for Swisher.

      • jsbrendog

        the only problem is if he is a n bat no throw ss. sigh

      • Ted Nelson

        The question is whether he will develop offensively. I think the Yankees believe that he will, or wouldn’t bother playing him at 3B when Chavez is available.

        Last season his wOBA was around .340 pretty late in the season and then he slumped a bit and it fell… so I don’t think it’s obvious that over a full season he’d be bad.

        Basically, you’ve got a small sample of PAs early in his career you’re looking at. Not necessarily going to be his long-term level of production.

        • Ted Nelson

          Not to say that he’d be a very good offensive RF, anyway, but maybe a passable stop gap with a wOBA around .330-.350. Plus the speed to go with it. The potential to be a plus offensive SS.

          And, by the way, at SS last year there were 14 qualifying guys ahead of his .313 wOBA… so saying he’s towards the bottom of the pack is a total lie. Right in the middle. Why distort the truth there?

          • ROBTEN

            I am not sure what I “distorted.”

            Of 20 qualifying SS last season on Fangraphs, his .313 wOBA would rank 15th out of 20, in the AL it would be 9th out of 10.

            How is this not bottom of the pack? Perhaps we’re looking at different information?

            • Ted Nelson

              There are 30 teams, 20 is 2/3 of the pack. You’re excluding all the teams that didn’t have a SS good enough to qualify, which is distorting the data through selection bias. Taking a sample that fits what you’re trying to show. There are a couple of good SS who didn’t play enough to qualify because on injury, but mostly it’s teams that had to juggle multiple crappy SS that didn’t have a qualifier.

              Drop to 450 PAs and he’s 15th out of 25. At 400 he’s 16th of 28.

              • ROBTEN

                I wasn’t really trying to show anything. I don’t have an anti-Nunez agenda, as you seem to imply.

                However, we’re talking about him playing regularly, which one expects would mean that he would get enough PA to qualify, in which case, he’d be at the bottom.

                Of course, as we include hitters which, by your own post are “multiple crappy SS,” he gets better. Why not go to 300 PA–he’s now 18th out of 41.

                But 16th out of 28 is still not a “plus-offensive” shortstop.

                (And if we move him into right field, he’s 28th out of 30).

                Look, I hope he develops into the player that you see. Right now, the evidence is that he’s a light-hitting, poor-fielding infielder.

                But certainly, if, as you tautologically suggest, he becomes a better hitter than he’s shown thus far, then he will be a better hitter.

            • V

              Limiting the comparison to ‘qualifying’ SSes is your problem. There’s a survivors’ bias, in that the bad hitting SSes don’t get the ABs to ‘qualify’.

              He’s 20/61 among SSes with 100+ PAs; practically tied with Dee Gordon, a notch under Hanley Ramirez (who admittedly, had an awful year for Hanley Ramirez) and Alexei Ramirez.

              • V

                From Jun 14, 2011 to Aug 2, 2011, the only stretch of his career in which he’s had regular playing time at the major league level (Jeter and ARod/Chavez injuries), he hit .295/.345/.417, good for a wOBA of 0.334.

          • ROBTEN

            Also, you’re assuming that he’ll develop into a hitter that he’s never been. He put up an wOBA higher than .330 just twice–once in 134 PA in A ball, and once in a full season at AA.

            Could it happen? I guess, but I’m not sure the evidence is there to claim he’s suddenly going to turn into a middle-of-the pack RF or a “plus-offensive SS.”

            • V

              See my above post; he put together a wOBA of .334 from Jun 14, 2011 to Aug 2, 2011. Admittedly, a small sample, but the only sample we have of what he can do with a long stretch of full playing time.

              • V

                0.323 if you add in the rest of August to the sample.

            • Ted Nelson

              I definitely think it’s possible for young players to improve, yes.

              I didn’t assume he will develop. I said “The question is whether he will develop offensively. I think the Yankees believe that he will, or wouldn’t bother playing him at 3B when Chavez is available.”

  • Brian

    I think he is just pressing, rushing and making stupid mistakes. Its almost like he is trying to make an immediate impression every time he is on base or the ball is hit his way. A minor league stint may just be a humbling experience that may just be needed. I think he can be the next shortstop but he may be the sacrificial lamb at the same time.

    • CountryClub

      Maybe he is pressing. But the problem with that theory is that he’s been a bad fielder in every yr of his time with the Yanks except for one (2010). That leads me to believe that he’s just not a very good defensive player.

      • Ted Nelson

        His throwing is a big problem he needs to fix; however, it’s a fixable problem. A lot of guys who are not good defenders are physically incapable of being good defenders. I don’t think that’s the case with Nunez.

      • Brian

        Crappy defensive fielders are everywhere. Why can’t we have one?

  • DM

    You could move him to 2nd base if the Cano/Boras FA thing goes awry. That’s the old school move for erratic shortstops. At 2nd you have more time for everything. If you bobble, you can still make the play — and you have a shorter throw.

  • Jd

    I was dusting it up with mike on this issue in another thread. No one replaces jeter, no one. That said, Nunez is going to have to get a thick skin or this noise will kill him. Playing a utility man is really hard for anyone that fundamentally is not a great defensive player. You just don’t have enough time to get comfortable. Nunez is not a good defensive player but he can be average of left in one spot. That may not be his fate.

    • Havok9120

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you (I’ve said before I like Nunez, and I do), but we have no real evidence of that. His time in the minors was subpar too, unless I’m misremembering.

  • mike

    trade him while his value is high – he reminds me of Rande Velarde, a guy who looked great in limited doses and played everywhere on the field, but was an average hitter and fair defender who was exposed after playing more than a few days in a row.

    • jsbrendog

      so you mean a backup/untility guy, which is exactly what theyre using him for…and how does that bring back anything in return? also, noone has ever improved at age 25. his value is way higher to the yankees as a guy who can play 3 if positions for ~$500,000 and pinch run and pinch hit.

      • jsbrendog

        although, maybe nunez can pull a casey blake and get us a carlos santana…..

      • JobaWockeeZ

        And if any of that were true then Cliff Lee is a Yankee.

        • Havok9120


          • JohnnyC

            Seattle asked for Nunez to replace David Adams in the Lee deal and Cashman said no.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        No one has ever improved at age 25? That’s quite the generalization.

        • jsbrendog

          sarcasm detector broken

          • Robinson Tilapia



      • CountryClub

        The problem is, he’s going to play almost as much as a starter. I guess it’s sink or swim time for him.

      • handtius

        what’s that guys name in toronto who’s murdering baseballs? yeah.

        • handtius

          missed the sarcasm flashers. my bad.

  • Annie Oakley

    Nunez couldn’t be the successor to Cody Ransom so this talk about the heir apparent to Jeter is ridiculous. Robertson is the heir apparent to Mo but Robertson is actually good. Nunez needs to be dealt and we need to begin to develop another SS as Jeter’s heir apparent. One that can actually field the ball and throw it to first.

    • jsbrendog

      one thing that no one can dispute is that nunez >>>>>>>> handsome cody ransom

      • MannyGeee

        Counterpoint…. Chicks dig dudes who can jump on a big stack of boxes

  • Angel

    elvis andrus

    • JobaWockeeZ

      Yes. They have Profar anyways.

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    A-Rod, who polarized like none other early in his Yankees career

    You clearly weren’t around for the Reggie Jackson era.

    Coming into his 1st spring training and declaring that he was “the straw that stirs the drink” created a polarization that Alex could only dream of.

    • Robinson Tilapia


    • TomH


    • BK2ATL

      Reggie was the “dude” to Thurman’s everyman’s grit. Then throw Billy Martin in the mix….

    • handtius

      I think “like no other” is just a phrase. I’m pretty sure Joe is familiar with the Yankees from Jackson era, even if he was a wee lad. We all know about it. They even made a mini series about it.

      If you want to throw people into that category, Pavano definitely fits in there. I think he was less polarizing and just more hated by almost all Yankee fans.

      • BK2ATL

        Not many redeeming qualities for Pavano in a Yankees’ uniform.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Jeter doesn’t really have a successor in the traditional sense of the word…he’s a top five short stop of all time, you can’t replace that easily. The production will have to come from elsewhere. Hopefully Teixeira bounces back and they’ll get MVP level production from first and stellar defense at short to make up for Jeter’s decline.

  • michael

    Extreme bias in this opinion: I’d rather see Rodriguez attempt starting SS in 2014 than Nuñez.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I’m a little biased on favor of Nunez.

    Considering he costs you the minumum and is getting better, I don’t see the harm in using him the way Girardi is. Does he need to improve? Of course. But I would prefer the young guy who might get better than the older vet who won’t, especially for that role. Plus, the age of your 3B and SS will allow Nunez semi-regular playing time to become consistent. He’s pretty decent with the bat (you can do way worse).

    Eventually, Nunez will have to sink or swim on his own. But I see more upside with him than most others.

    Also, I think he presses and tries too hard, and his errors can compound. I think he knows the teams history and worries that every mistake might mean curtains. Almost like he has to be perfect. Hopefully he will fix the mental part of his game.

    • Ted Nelson

      I am also relatively high on Nunez compared to a lot of people. However, he’s been making errors since the low minors, so I don’t buy that logic.

  • dean

    Please no

  • RetroRob

    The problem may be that he’s not equipped for his current role, which is a back-up infielder bouncing from position to position, not sure when he’s going to play, where he’s going to play, and for how long in any game. It’s a very different experience than being assigned one position and playing every day.

    He was strongest last year when he was playing one position reguarly, SS, when Jeter was injured. I was hoping last year was a transition year and that he would develop more consistency and confidence this year. So far that hasn’t been the case.

    My fear is that he will be traded to another team, who will give him a fulltime shot at short, and he’ll turn into a .285/.335/.420 hitter swiping 30+ bases, valuable production from a SS in today’s weak market. Yet he may never achieve that in his current role.

    As for Jeter, he’s declined, but I’m not quite sure the end of days is quite as close as once thought.

  • Mike

    Jeter made a bunch of errors early in his career. Few start out as a “gold” glover.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      Jeter could also hit early in his career.

      • Kvothe

        He’s only 24. Not everyone can be a wunderkind with the bat in their early 20’s like Jetes.

  • BK2ATL

    I know that Nunez has talent, but it still appears pretty raw to me. He’s not the smoothest fielder, at 3rd, SS or 2B. I’m not in the Yankees’ camp to see what it is they like about him so much. But, JMO, Nunez is presently tragic in the field. Jeter’s replacement??? Not so fast.

    I will admit that he is pretty good at the plate. He has speed and a natural aggressiveness and daring on the base paths, one that I wish Brett Gardner shared more. Cause havoc out there for the opposing team. Make them scramble at the fear of your speed and willingness to use it at any time.

    Also wanted to say, kudos to A-Rod for his tutelage of Cano AND Melky Cabrera. It appears that both have truly stepped up their respective games after working out with and picking A-Rod’s brain for his insight. Something very under-reported by NY writers, but critical to what the Yankees’ long-term plans will be. Big difference from the Bobby Abreu days.

    • Kvothe

      He’s been in the system for 8 years, but he was signed at age 16 and I believe he’s 24 (turning 25 during the season). He could improve. He’s a year older than Michael Pineda.

  • Brian

    I like how we as yankee fans can never be completely happy with those that are on our team. There are always that one person per year or years to take our hatred on. I for one hate other players or figures, mostly boston players Ortiz, schilling, Bobby V….

    • RetroRob

      There is no better indicator of how good life is as a Yankees fan when a couple of our concerns center around players named Nunez and Cervelli.

      • Brian

        But it happens every year. There is always a sacrificial lamb.

  • Matt DiBari

    I really wonder what it is the Yankees see that I don’t. I see a man who can’t field, can’t throw, and shows piss poor instincts.

    They see a star.

    • Sarah

      No, I don’t think they see a star (present or future). But they aren’t going to say “Yeah, Nunez is pretty bad but hey, what are our other options?” to the media. So instead they say “we like what he can do, and we want to get him some playing time.” I’m sure if they had other, better options they probably would play those options. But it seems like they don’t.

      • Ted Nelson

        Chavez isn’t a great option, but they chose to re-sign him rather than bring in someone else and Nunez plays over him.

        I certainly don’t think the Yankees see a star. Not sure why Matt would create a strawman like that. I do think that they see a young player with some good tools who has the potential to be an average or better starter at arguably the most valuable position in the game.

        • Matt DiBari

          Okay, I see a man who can’t field, can’t throw, and shows piss poor instincts.

          They see an average or better starter at arguably the most valuable position in the game.

          It doesn’t change the original point that he’s horrendous and not getting any better.

          • BK2ATL

            Maybe there’s something there. Maybe he’s great in practice, in team drills, whatever. It’s just not translating to MLB so far.

            Maybe they’re pulling a Montero and driving up his value, since teams actually want him.

            Maybe they don’t trust the remaining in-system options, David Adams (always injured) and Joseph, to be anything to write home about…

            All I see is that they CHOSE Nunez over Pena out of ST. Chose to find significant playing time for him, while with Pena that didn’t happen. CHOSE not to include him in a deal for Cliff Lee. Apparently, they see some kind of significant value in Nunez, that hasn’t manifest itself to us mortals.

            I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt though. I can recall very recently this entire board going nuts over Raul Ibanez in ST. Yet, he’s produced more clutch hits than A-Rod, Cano, and Texiera so far, which isn’t saying much, but still.

            Maybe they know something we don’t. I mean, it keeps happening…Thames, Garcia, Colon, Wade, Ayala, Jones….

  • Matt Warden

    I know I am probably swimming against the current here when I say this, but I am not sure how polarizing Nunez actually is. In our little blogosphere, sure, he’s pretty popular — but that’s also because so much time is spent here scrutinizing every single detail and every single player. The folks who come to sites such as RAB are familiar with everyone, not just marquee names. How else would a guy like Cervelli, who really does have a minimal impact on the season’s turnout, garner so much attention?

    I wonder whether if a lot of “everday” fans probably have much of anything to say about Nunez (or Cervelli for that matter). Anecdotally speaking, when I consider my father for instance, who has watched the Yankees faithfully since he was a kid, I hardly remember him ever spending a breath on a non-starter no matter what he does. Meh.

    Then again, for folks like myself, it’s hard to get emotionally invested in anyone. I tend invest my emotion into the team as a whole and not its individual parts.

    • MannyGeee

      Cervelli gets so much attention because he can speak Italian… And the bitches love it when you can speak Italian…

      • Tom

        I thought he was a fiery latin player?

        • Matt Warden

          Hah, you’re both right. If memory serves (and it often doesn’t), he’s Italian but grew up in Venezuela.

  • Brian

    What happened to Cito Culver?

    • Plank

      He’s doing ok, not great in A-. Moving along in the system basically as expected. I would assume he will drop switch hitting soon and it will help his overall numbers.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    it’s not crazy to see him as the future Yankees SS. He’s basically Elvis Andrus with more power and maybe less average potential. I think Nunez could be the starting SS for several teams right now.

    • Bavarian Yankee

      just to clarify: with average I mean batting average.

  • jayd808

    I’ve never understood your propensity to trash home-team players: from Sweaty Freddy and now to Nunez, “the human blooper reel.” He’s a kid, playing with his heart in his throat. Christ, Jeter had 22 errors in his first season and a slew in the minors. Save the shit for the Sawks players.

    I come to RAB because I enjoy reading about the Yankees. I love ALL the Yankee players and root for them to succeed, particularly players like David Phelps. Sure I shudder when Chris Stewart is having an at bat, but I’m not going to shit on him. He’s one of my guys, part of my baseball family. Freddy Garcia doesn’t sweat any more nor less than any other player. Why do you say these things? Have these guys come to your workplace and yelled at you for how badly you suck? Stop being a brat.