Archive for Eduardo Nunez
Skipped the mailbag last week because of the Season Preview series, but we’re back at it this week. Got four questions for you, two about current Yankees and two about players they may or may not look to acquire. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything throughout the week.
Paul asks: In 2011 and 2012 (maybe 2010 too) we saw Mariano Rivera get used more cautiously. Less outings of more than an inning, more rest, etc. Any chance Joe Girardi will just send him out there and give him the Joe Torre/Scott Proctor treatment since this is his last year?
That’s a pretty interesting question, but I would be shocked if Girardi used Rivera for more than three outs semi-regularly. That doesn’t mean I think he should use him for 100+ innings like it’s 1996 either, but I would like to see Mo for two innings in an extra innings game at home, for four or five outs if things are getting hairy in the eighth, stuff like that. I would hope Girardi scraps any workload concerns in the postseason and just goes nuts, squeezing every last bullet out of Rivera’s arm in the weeks before retirement, but they have to get to the playoffs first.
Travis asks: If the Yankees look outside the organization, would Yan Gomes of Cleveland make sense? He can play 3B, 1B and even a little LF.
Gomes, 25, is most notable for being the first Brazilian-born player to play in MLB. He debuted with the Blue Jays last season and hit .204/.264/.367 (69 wRC+) in just 111 plate appearances, then was traded to the Indians with Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers over the winter. He’s very versatile, with a ton of experience at the corner infield spots and behind the plate, plus he dabbled with left field a bit last year.
Baseball America ranked Gomes as the 27th best prospect in Cleveland’s system in their 2013 Prospect Handbook, one spot ahead of current Yankee Thomas Neal. They said Gomes “may not quite profile as a regular, but he could be useful as a backup catcher who can play multiple positions and provide power,” noting that he’s an impatient hitter and his swing gets a little long. He would make sense for several teams as a right-handed bat off the bench, including the Yankees, but I don’t think I would give up much to acquire him. Pretty much the only thing he has on someone like Ronnie Mustelier is the ability to catch, which is big but not the most important thing in the world.
SMC asks: Rafael Furcal is having Tommy John surgery and Pete Kozma isn’t a shortstop. What about Eduardo Nunez for Matt Carpenter? Fits a need for both sides.
Heh, Nunez is no shortstop either, not unless he manages to get his throwing under control. I don’t expect that to happen, he’s been working on it for years. Going way back in the minors too, I’m not talking about two or three years. The Cardinals have a perfectly capable shortstop in Ryan Jackson who they seem unwilling to use. He’s a great defender but he can’t hit, which is better than no-hit/no-glove Kozma. I don’t think Nunez would be all that interesting to them.
That said, I love Carpenter. The 27-year-old is a career .283/.359/.447 (120 wRC+) hitter with six homers in limited big league time (359 plate appearances), but he’s hit at every step of the minors and consistently walked as much (if not more) than he’s struck out. Carpenter can handle the four corner positions and St. Louis has been working him out second base this spring, and apparently he’s done well enough that they’re leaning towards playing him there full-time to open the season. I’d love to see the Yankees acquire him and playing him fairly regularly at whatever position, but I don’t think the Cardinals will make him available. Certainly not for Nunez anyway.
Tom asks: I feel like I’ve seen Corban Joseph play third a few times so far this spring, and he’s looked okay at third to my untrained eye. We’ve all heard the knock on him is his defense, but I was wondering how big a knock that is? Is he a guy that could fake third for a while and not have it be disastrous, or do you think the truth will get ugly if/when we see him more at 3B?
Joseph’s problem isn’t so much fielding the ball, he just doesn’t have the arm — strength or accuracy — to consistently make the throw over to first. That’s been very evident this spring, as he short-hopped balls across the diamond or muscled up so much they landed in the stands. This isn’t Nunez having the tools and being unable to use them to make the play, this is not having the tools at all. I like Joseph and think he can be a productive enough hitter to at least come off a big league bench, but I just don’t know where he would play. Do you just accept the risk at third and hope the bat makes up for it? Maybe, but it’s very risky.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
The Yankees have been getting above-average production from the shortstop position for nearly two decades now thanks to Derek Jeter, who continued to prove doubters/me wrong by hitting .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) with a league-leading 216 hits at age 38 last summer. His postseason ended prematurely due to a fractured left ankle — after playing on a bone bruise pretty much all September — that required offseason surgery, and he’s yet to play this spring as he rehabs. The shortstop position is a question mark for New York and it’s not just because of Jeter’s injury.
It will be Jeter, hell or high water. Despite his lack of Grapefruit League action to date, he hasn’t suffered any kind of setback and is expected to be ready in time for Opening Day. The Yankees will, however, use the Cap’n as their DH against left-handed pitchers quite a bit (i.e. all the time) in April to give him the occasional break and day off his feet. They did something similar last year and will do it again this year, but it’s a bit more of a necessity now.
Offensively, the projections hate Jeter because he’s a 38-year-old shortstop coming off a major injury, but he’s been legitimately driven the ball since working with former hitting coach Gary Denbo during his midseason DL stint in 2010. He’s managed a .321/.369/.434 overall batting line in over 1,000 plate appearances since then — including a respectable .298/.351/.377 against righties, who handled him very well from 2010 through the start of the DL stint — which is no small sample. Those hits weren’t ground balls with eyes or bloops in front of poor defensive outfielders, it’s been vintage Jeter slashing the ball to right and occasionally over the fence.
The defense is what really concerns me. The Cap’n has pretty much always been a below-average defender and he hasn’t gotten any better with age, but now we’re adding the ankle injury on top of it. If he loses any more mobility, forget it. He’d be completely unplayable at shortstop even though the Yankees would never consider moving him down the defensive spectrum. Jeter’s arm is fine and his glovework — he handles whatever he can get to — is strong, but his limited range could be even worse in 2013. With a ground ball heavy rotation (outside of Phil Hughes), it could be a major problem. For now the Yankees will count on Jeter to again ignite the offense from atop the lineup and live with his flaws, which is what they’ve been doing for several years now.
It’s obvious the Yankees want it to be Eduardo Nunez. They’re giving him every opportunity to show he can handle the position, starting last year with his demotion and continuing this spring with his 36 defensive innings, two shy of team leader Melky Mesa. They’ve worked with him on shortening his arm action and all sorts of stuff, but nothing has taken. Still, they’re apparently intrigued by the 25-year-old’s offensive potential, which stems almost exclusively from his contact ability and speed. If they get their way, it will be Nunez soaking up all those shortstop innings while Jeter spends the day at DH against left-handed starters.
Jayson Nix is the only alternative here and is more of an emergency option at shortstop that someone you’d want to run out there several days in a row if need be. Neither he nor Nunez inspires much confidence, really.
Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do not have a shortstop prospect in Triple-A at all. There’s an outside chance Nunez will get sent down to start the season, but I wouldn’t count on it. The Scranton club will rely on the likes of 33-year-old Gil Velazquez and 26-year-olds Addison Maruszak and Reegie Corona at the infield’s most important position. Velazquez and Corona are no-hit/all-glove types while Maruszak doesn’t really do much of anything well. The team’s only real in-house shortstop options are Jeter, Nunez, and Nix. They’d sooner make a trade than run Velazquez, Corona, or Maruszak out there semi-regularly.
The Top Prospect
The Yankees don’t have a standout shortstop prospect but they do have a very interesting one in 19-year-old Austin Aune, the team’s 14th best prospect overall. Last summer’s second rounder received a $1M bonus and hit .273/.358/.410 (130 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in 163 plate appearances for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, though his inexperience was evident in his 27.6% strikeout rate. Aune was a top quarterback recruit who passed on a commitment to TCU to sign with New York, so the Yankees are hoping that focusing on baseball full-time will allow him to reach his considerable ceiling. Aune has big power potential from the left side to go along with his strong throwing arm and athleticism, but there is a lot of work to be done. He’ll likely begin the season in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island at midseason, so he’s far from being a big league factor.
The Deep Sleeper
Cito Culver and Claudio Custodio are New York’s most well-known lower-level shortstop prospects, but neither hit much last season or projects to be a real impact player. The Yankees’ most intriguing shortstop prospect way down in the minors is 18-year-old Abi Avelino, who signed for $300k back in 2011. He’s a standout defender with a good arm, good instincts, and good body control, and his offensive game is built around an easy right-handed swing that produces an awful lot contact. Avelino obviously has a long, long way to go before he becomes a factor in the Major Leagues, but he has all the tools to breakout and establish himself as one of the team’s best prospects. The Yankees are expected to bring him stateside with one of their two rookie level GCL affiliates this summer.
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The Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira injuries mean Jeter’s return from his ankle surgery is extremely important to the team’s early season success. He needs to get on the field, stay on the field, and get on-base so Robinson Cano has someone to drive in. The Yankees will ease him back into the shortstop position with those DH days, but the Cap’n's bat is the most important thing. There is no real immediate help at the position coming up behind Jeter just in case, that is unless Nunez suddenly figures out how to make routine throws. I’m not counting on it.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
Second base is one of the four premium up-the-middle positions, but it is the fourth-most important of those positions. It doesn’t require the athleticism of shortstop or center field or the pure toughness of catcher, nor does it require the arm strength — second baseman have the most time to make the routine play of any infielder. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a rough position because of the blind double play pivot, but it sorta is the black sheep of the up-the-middle spots. That said, second base is the highlight of the Yankees’ organization for a number of reasons.
Robinson Cano isn’t just the best player on the Yankees, he’s the best second baseman in baseball and one of the very best players in the game period. The 30-year-old has hit .311/.370/.539 (142 wRC+) over the last three seasons and put up career-highs in doubles (48), homers (33), extra-base hits (82), ISO (.238), SLG (.550), walks (61), walk rate (8.8%), wOBA (.394), wRC+ (150), fWAR (7.8), and bWAR (8.2) last summer. It was his third consecutive MVP-caliber season and there’s really no reason to expect his performance to suddenly fall off a cliff in 2013. He might not be as amazingly awesome again, but there’s no obvious reason why he would be anything less that excellent.
In the field, Cano is dynamite gloveman in the eyes of DRS (+17 career), Total Zone (+43) and FRAA (+45.1), but not so much UZR (-30.2). Robbie doesn’t have the greatest range going to his left, but c’mon. That UZR stands out like a sore thumb because it doesn’t jibe with the eye test. He might not be as good as Total Zone and FRAA say, but Cano is clearly above-average defensively in my opinion. His range to his right is very good and his arm is a rocket, and when you add in the fact that he plays pretty much every single game year after year, you’ve got a two-way threat who is among the most dependable players in the world.
Cano’s performance in 2013 will be very important and not just to the Yankees given all the offense they lost over the winter. Robbie will be a free agent after the season and is in line for a mammoth nine-figure contract, and in fact Brian Cashman confirmed the club has already extended a “significant offer.” Scott Boras won’t go down that easily though, so expect contract talks to linger pretty much all season long. It will be the cloud hanging over the team all summer, kinda like CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause two years ago. The off-field issue doesn’t diminish Cano’s on-field awesomeness or importance, however.
The bench is still a few weeks away from being finalized, but the two obvious candidates are Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix. The 25-year-old Nunez is a defensive nightmare who has been working out at shortstop exclusively since last May, though Cashman did say he would return to a utility role if he makes the team. The speed and contact ability are certainly useful tools, useful tools that are negated (and then some) by the unusable defense.
Nix, 30, was solid in a limited role last year, mainly by hitting lefties (97 wRC+) and playing all over the field. He’s a second baseman by trade and a much better defender than Nunez, but no better than average overall. I don’t think it would be a surprise if either guy made the team as a reserve infielder, and heck, there’s even a scenario in which both make the team. Either way, the step down from Cano to either Nix or Nunez is enormous. Maybe the biggest drop-off from one player to their replacement in all of baseball.
Knocking on the Door
The Yankees are blessed with very good second base depth, including at the Triple-A level. Both 25-year-old David Adams and 24-year-old Corban Joseph are slated to begin the season with Triple-A Scranton and they’re cut from a similar cloth: bat-first players who are below-average defenders at second. Adams, a right-handed hitter, used to be a solid defender at the position but has lost a few steps following the massive ankle injury he suffered in 2010. Joseph, a left-handed hitter, has always been a below-average defender. Both guys can hit and are willing to walk though, making them very good depth pieces (and trade bait). Adams is dealing with a back injury and could miss the start of the season, which I guess makes Joseph first in line for a call-up.
The Top Prospect
One of New York’s best and most exciting prospects is second baseman Angelo Gumbs, who placed ninth on my preseason top 30 list. Still just 20 years old (with an October birthday!), the right-handed hitter signed for $750k as the team’s second round pick in 2010 and hit .268/.317/.428 (102 wRC+) with seven homers and 26 steals (in 29 attempts) in 278 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season. His season ended prematurely due to a partially torn elbow ligament, but he’s 100% healthy and even managed to squeeze in a few winter ball games. Gumbs stands out of his electric bat speed — best in the organization and among the best in minor league baseball — and athleticism, so he’s a premium breakout candidate for 2013 if healthy given his age. The Yankees will bump him up to High-A Tampa this year, so he won’t be a big league factor this summer unless he’s traded for an actual big leaguer.
The Deep Sleeper
Gumbs, Adams, and Joseph are exceptions — there just aren’t many true second base prospects throughout baseball. There aren’t as rare as true first base prospects, but most second base prospects are failed shortstops (like Cano). The Yankees don’t have a deep second base sleeper prospect, but they do have 2012 sixth rounder Rob Refsnyder. The 21-year-old followed up his College World Series Most Outstanding Player performance by hitting .247/.324/.370 (95 wRC+) with four homers and 11 steals (in 12 chances) in 182 plate appearances for Charleston last year. Although he played the outfield in his pro debut, the Yankees announced him as a second baseman at the draft and are expected to move him back there going forward. Refsnyder played the position in high school and would raise his long-term profile quite a bit if he shows he can handle second adequately. He’s not as good a prospect as the other three guys but he’s definitely interesting, hence his inclusion in my not top 30 prospects post.
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The Yankees have more quality depth at second base than at any other position, and it starts right at the top with Cano. He’s the team’s best and most important player heading into the 2013 season, after which he will sign a gigantic contract to either remain in pinstripes or leave the only organization he’s ever known. Adams and Joseph give New York legitimate alternatives in Triple-A if needed, and Gumbs boasts breakout potential despite already being one of the team’s better prospects. Second base is a major bright spot for the organization from top to bottom.
February 24th: Cashman misspoke and confirmed to Jack Curry that Cervelli does not have an option remaining. He also indicated the guys who can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers (Cervelli and Stewart) have a leg up in the catching competition. That’s not terribly surprising.
February 9th: Via Chad Jennings: Brian Cashman confirmed that Frankie Cervelli has a minor league option remaining. I was under the assumption that he burned his final option last season, but that wasn’t the case. The Yankees will be able to send Cervelli to Triple-A this year without having to pass him through waivers, which is kinda big considering the wide open catching race. The internal options all stink, but it would be nice to keep everyone around just in case.
Cashman also confirmed that Cody Eppley, Eduardo Nunez, and Ivan Nova have an option left as well. Chris Stewart and Clay Rapada do not, but both are expected to make the team anyway. Both Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz can opt out of their minor league contracts if they don’t make the team out of Spring Training while Dan Johnson’s opt-out date is later in the summer. Unlike the Ivan Nova-David Phelps competition for the fifth starter’s spot, the Yankees will only be able to keep the winner of the Rivera-Diaz competition for the right-handed bench bat role. The loser figures to look for a big league job elsewhere.
Late last week the Yankees addressed the left-handed half of what will presumably be a DH platoon, signing Travis Hafner to a one-year contract worth $2M. Pronk’s power and on-base ability will be an upgrade over Raul Ibanez‘s offensive contributions last year as long as he stays on the field. That part is far from a given thanks to his extensive injury history.
Last season the Yankees employed — or attempted to employ before injuries an other factors interfered — an unorthodox DH platoon that consisted of playing Eduardo Nunez in the field against left-handers while either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez served as the DH. I expect them to try a similar arrangement in 2013, but obviously the pieces will change. A-Rod is going to miss at least half the season due to his hip surgery, leaving Jeter and Kevin Youkilis as the infielders most of need of regular rest.
In addition to being 38-years-old, Jeter is coming off a major ankle injury that required surgery. He recently resumed baseball activities and right now it appears as though he’ll be ready in time for Opening Day. Even if he is healthy and ready to go when the season begins, I still expect Joe Girardi to give him regular turns at DH just to ease him back into things following the ankle fracture. Girardi is always conservative when it comes to injuries and it makes complete sense to take it easy on the Cap’n in April. Youkilis is no stranger to the DL and he will need his fair share of DH days, but hopefully not as many as Jeter early in the season.
The question about who replaces Jeter or Youkilis in the field on those DH days is unanswered. Despite the club’s insistence that he is most valuable at shortstop (duh), Brian Cashman recently said they would convert Nunez back into a utility infielder if he makes the team out of Spring Training. The other option is Jayson Nix, who did an admirable job off the bench last summer as the primary utility infielder following Eduardo’s defense-related demotion. David Adams and Corban Joseph could receive consideration for the job, but their inability to play shortstop works against them.
Jason Bartlett is pretty much the only notable infielder left on the free agent market who can legitimately play shortstop, so it sure looks like it will be Nix or Nunez subbing in against lefties while Jeter or Youkilis spends the day at DH. Nix, 30, is steady but unspectacular in the field and below-average but adequate at the plate. The 25-year-old Nunez offers much more exciting tools in his speed, contact ability, and arm strength, but he’s a big liability in the field. He has little trouble getting to balls and offers more range than Nix, but obviously he has major issues finishing the play. If the Yankees want reliability, they’ll take Nix. If they want some upside, they’ll take Nunez. There’s not much point in arguing strongly either way right now.
Assuming the Yankees carry a right-handed hitting outfielder on the bench to platoon with their various left-handed hitting outfielders, they have three bench spots left to fill. One will go to the backup catcher, so it’s really two spots. Given the weak catching tandem, I would really like to see the team carry a good left-handed bat on the bench so Girardi could pinch-hit liberally in the late-innings. Dan Johnson, who can play the corner infield spots in a pinch, could make sense for that role. It’s a job that Eric Chavez would have filled perfectly, but alas. Given how unlikely the team’s catchers (whoever they end up being) are to hit, I think having that dangerous lefty pinch-hitter is more of a necessity than a luxury.
If the Yankees do carry such a player, they’re left with one bench spot for a utility infielder. That guy will have to be able to play shortstop and play it fairly regularly, I’m thinking two or three times a week until Jeter settles in following the surgery. Not only that, but he has to be able to run for inevitable pinch-running situations. I think Nunez is a better bet to do that than Nix, but his defense stinks. At the same time, the more at-bats Nix receives, the more his production is likely to go down. He’s the type of guy who gets exposed with too much playing time. There is a scenario in which the Yankees could carry both on their bench at the start of the season, but they would be short-changing themselves elsewhere.
Via Andrew Marchand: Brian Cashman said Eduardo Nunez would have to be a utility player if he broke camp with the Yankees in a few weeks. The GM reiterated that he sees Nunez as being most valuable at shortstop, but also acknowledged the roster situation may force their hand.
“We have everyday guys at other positions. If he makes our club, it will be at a utility role … It remains to be seen how our team shakes out and how he looks in the spring. At an everyday basis, he is a shortstop,” said Cashman. Nunez, 25, has struggled defensively (to put it lightly) his entire career and the problem seemed to be exacerbated when the Yankees started moving him around as a utility man. He can run and hit a little though, enough to keep getting shots. At this point though, after all these years of working on his defense, it’s tough to see him improving in a meaningful way going forward.
The Yankees have been very active on the free agent market this offseason, though it’s easy to forget since most of the signings were re-signings. Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has signed this winter, and they still have questions to answer at DH, behind the plate (unlikely to be addressed in a meaningful way), and on the bench. There’s a lot of offseason left and a lot of holes to fill.
For a big market team like New York, free agency is the easiest way to add players. There’s always the trade route though, and in fact the club has swung a major trade in four of the last five offseasons. Some (Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) have worked better than others (Michael Pineda and Javy Vazquez). The Yankees may or may not have a trade of that magnitude left in them this winter, but not every deal has to be a blockbuster to help. Let’s take stock of the team’s current crop of trade chips.
Logan, 28, has emerged as the team’s primary left-handed reliever over the last two years, but in no way should he be off limits this offseason. In fact, Clay Rapada has been much more effective against same-side hitters in recent years, though he’s unusable against righties. Logan can at least fake it against batters of the opposite hand if need be. Since he’s due to become a free agent next winter and is coming off a career-high (and league-leading) 80 appearances, Boone should be made very available this winter. Teams continually prove willing to overpay for quality relief, especially a left-handed relief.
For all his defensive deficiencies, the 25-year-old Nunez has garnered plenty of trade interest (from the Braves and Mariners, specifically) in recent years. Finding decent middle infield help these days is close to impossible, so teams are eager to roll the dice on a cheap young player with speed and contact skills. Frankly, if Nunez had spent the last few years in some other city, a lot of Yankees fans would be looking at him as a buy-low guy whose defense might be fixable with enough reps. Because we’ve seen the hilarious frequency of his errors first hand, he gets written off quickly. C’est la vie.
Ivan Nova & David Phelps
The Yankees brought both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte back, meaning Nova and Phelps will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot in camp. The loser goes to the bullpen (or Triple-A) to wait his turn as the sixth starter. Both guys could also be trade bait as young, cost-controlled back-end arms, though both also have their warts. Nova got pounded last season and Phelps has just a handful of big league starts to his credit.
Phil Hughes could also be lumped into this group, but he only offers one year of team control and is being counted on as the fourth starter behind the three veterans. He shouldn’t be off-limits, but he might not fetch as much as the team would like given the impending free agency. Hughes is most desirable to contenders, and it’s not often you see a trade made between two contenders.
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez & Tyler Austin
You can’t have a trade chips post without mentioning the top prospects. These four represent the team’s best young minor leaguers in whatever order, though none of them have meaningful experience at the Double-A level. For all intents and purposes, they’re four high-upside guys in Single-A ball. As we’ve seen in the recent R.A. Dickey and James Shields trades, it takes an elite prospect on the cusp of the big leagues to land an impact player. Teams will surely line up to acquire these four, but I don’t think any of them would be enough to bring say, a young and MLB ready impact bat without significant secondary pieces. Twelve months from now, one or all of these guys could be among the best trade chips in the sport.
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Curtis Granderson’s name has popped up as a trade candidate numerous times this offseason, though I maintain that it will be close to impossible to trade him and improve the team at the same time. The Yankees didn’t drop $62M total on five free agents this winter to trade their best power hitter for a young player who might help two or three years from now, potentially wasting a year of CC Sabathia at his best, of Robinson Cano at his best, of David Robertson at his best, of Pettitte and Mariano Rivera before they call it a career. With the 2014 payroll plan looming, making one last “all-in” run in 2013 should be the club’s top priority even if they seem to feel differently.
With Mark Reynolds joining the Indians, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Kevin Youkilis will sign with the Yankees to replace the injured Alex Rodriguez next season. The team offered the long-time Red Sox a one-year, $12M contract at the Winter Meetings last week and are still waiting for his answer, but the Reynolds signing figures to take the Terry Francona-led Indians off the board. Obviously it’s not a guarantee Youkilis with sign with New York, but right now things are pointing in that direction.
Just like the catcher position, the Yankees do not have a suitable in-house replacement at the hot corner. Unlike the catcher position, the Yankees are actively looking to acquire a player to man the position next year. Their internal solutions at third base are a little more promising than they are behind the plate, but it’s still an uninspiring group. Let’s review.
The most veteran of the team’s in-house options, the 30-year-old Nix put up a .243/.306/.384 (88 wRC+) line with the Yankees this year and is a career .214/.285/.371 (73 wRC+) hitter. One thing he does decently is hit lefties, including a .255/.318/.408 (97 wRC+) line this year and .239/.309/.428 (94 wRC+) for his career. Nix has proven to be very versatile, starting at least nine games at second, short, third, and left field in 2012. The Yankees recently signed him to a new one-year contract worth $900k, and convinced him to accept a minor league assignment. Nix cleared waivers a few days ago and remains with the organization, but not as a 40-man roster player.
Nunez, 25, is one of the more polarizing players in Yankeeland. The guy has a ton of tools, specifically offering the ability to get the bat on the ball (career 10.4 K% and 88.2% contact rate), speed (career 38-for-46 in stolen base attempts, 83% success rate), and both range and arm strength in the field. His only problem is the inability to put those defensive skills to good use, as Nunez has a knack for throwing the ball away and booting ground balls. It’s frustrating because the routine play gives him trouble, not the tough ones. Nunez is a career .272/.318/.384 (88 wRC+) hitter in 491 big league plate appearances (.292/.330/.393, 93 wRC+ in 2012) and probably is the most dynamic of the team’s in-house options given his speed. The Yankees, however, have kept him at shortstop exclusively since May in an effort to improve his defense. They’d have to scrap that plan to use him as an A-Rod replacement.
Unlike Nunez and Nix, the 25-year-old Adams has zero big league experience. In fact, he has zero Triple-A experience. The team’s third round pick in 2008 missed most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons with a brutal ankle injury, but returned this year to hit .306/.385/.450 (133 wRC+) in 383 Double-A plate appearances. A second baseman by trade, the Yankees shifted Adams to third base after A-Rod broke his hand in late-July. He continued to work on the position in the Arizona Fall League after the season. Adams is a contact-oriented right-handed hitter who has present gap power and will take a walk, and he’s always hit in the minors. Performance is not the issue. He lost a ton of development time due to the ankle injury and in fact, the team kept him on a four days on, one day off regimen this year. Making the jump from Double-A to the big leagues is tough but not impossible, though Adams would be doing it with only 50 or so career games at the hot corner under his belt.
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The crop of internal third base solutions is better than the internal catcher solutions, but these still aren’t guys you’d expect to find playing the hot corner everyday for a contending team. It’s easy to see why the Yankees would pursue someone like Youkilis, but let’s pretend for a moment that he’ll spurn the team to sign elsewhere.
All 30 managers meet with the media for 30-ish minutes during the Winter Meetings, and Joe Girardi held his Q&A session late this afternoon. It’s pretty typical of Yankees people to speak a lot of words but not actually say much, and this was no different. I don’t have the audio to share because the quality is awful, but here’s a recap…
- Girardi confirmed what Brian Cashman said yesterday, that A-Rod didn’t say anything about his hip until being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALCS. “His hips weren’t firing right. It wasn’t pain but he felt it was not the explosiveness … I was somewhat worried because he’d been through it on his right hip and you’d think he’d know what the feeling was like. It wasn’t firing the way he thought.”
- A-Rod went for an MRI on his right hip after the game, and when it came back clean Girardi kept playing him. He did acknowledge Alex “did look different than he did before he got hurt.” The team doesn’t know exactly when the injury happened.
- On losing A-Rod for the first half of next year: “It’s big. You go into an offseason and you feel you have to address certain areas and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty big hole to fill, and it may not necessarily be (filled) with one person.”
- “I’m not sure,” said the skipper when asked about any tension in his relationship with A-Rod. “It probably answers a lot of questions — he wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury. Now we have a reason, possibly why.”
The Yankees didn’t have much need for a utility infielder a few years ago, back when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Robinson Cano were locks to play 150+ games every season. Things have changed in recent years as A-Rod has started to breakdown and Jeter started to receive more and more rest. Ramiro Pena did the backup infield thing for a while, but Eduardo Nunez wrestled the job from him by hitting .301/.350/.421 with three homers and 13 steals in 200 midseason plate appearances last summer while Jeter (calf) and A-Rod (knee) were on the DL.
Nunez, 25, opened 2012 as the utility infielder for the second year in a row, and he hit a solid .294/.356/.373 with six steals in the team’s first 31 games. He was playing primarily against lefties while either Jeter or A-Rod would spend the game at DH or even on the bench entirely. Nunez was contributing enough with the bat, but the problem was his perpetually sketchy defense.
He committed four errors in those first 31 team games: one at short, one one at second, and two at third. We’re talking routine plays too, like this throw. There were several other botched plays as well, including two on ground balls to third in the first two innings against the Rays on May 10th. Tampa scored two unearned runs as a result, plus they tried to bunt towards Nunez several other times throughout the game. Joe Girardi lifted him for defense after the fifth inning, and a day later the Yankees sent Eduardo down to Triple-A to work on his defense.
The plan was to limit Nunez to the middle infield in hopes that consistent playing time at the same spot would improve his glovework, but he responded with two errors in his third Triple-A game. Five days later he jammed his thumb and had to be placed on the DL. Nunez missed close to two months with the injury, so he only managed to play in 44 minor league games. He made five errors in those 44 games, all at shortstop. The Yankees recalled Nunez when rosters expanded in September, and he hit .289/.293/.421 with five steals in 41 sporadic plate appearances. He also committed three more errors, all at short.
Nunez served as the team’s primary DH against left-handers in the postseason, though he took over at shortstop full-time after Jeter fractured his ankle in Game One of the ALCS. He went 3-for-11 (.273) in five postseason games, most notably taking Justin Verlander deep in the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three. In three playoff games at short, he made one error that was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Girardi, as he had done during the regular season, lifted Eduardo for defense late a few times.
All told, Nunez hit .292/.330/.393 (93 wRC+) with one homer and eleven steals in exactly 100 plate appearances for the big league team in 2012. Anecdotally, most of his defensive issues seemed to come on routine plays. Whenever there was a hot shot or he had to range far for a ball and make a quick throw, he seemed to do fine. The defensive problems seemed to pop up most when he had time to think. The Yankees continued to give him chances and Brian Cashman says he views Nunez as a shortstop long-term, but he had an opportunity to cement his place in the team’s long-term plans this year only to throw it away. (Pun completely intended)