Red Sox: Lesson from the past could dissuade pursuit of Eduardo Nunez

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 30: Eduardo Nunez
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 30: Eduardo Nunez /

The Boston Red Sox have a dilemma with Eduardo Nunez. Do they sign Nunez?  Where do you play Nunez? Will Nunez be this next Julio Lugo?

The Boston Red Sox are faced with an offseason decision on how to approach Eduardo Nunez on a contract.

Nunez is now 30-years-old and in the prime baseball years of his career as he enters the free agency market. Nunez has most certainly given his agents some baseball performance ammunition to receive a nice financial package in both years and money.

The multi-position talent of Nunez is most attractive as versatility is a highly valued skill. When Nunez played for the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins he was relegated to part-time duty until several seasons had passed. His breakout year was with the Twins and San Francisco Giants in 2016 when he played in 141 games and hit .288. Nunez made the All-Star team and had a 2.6 fWAR.

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Nunez was not done being shopped and this season came to the Red Sox in a trade for Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos – both low-level prospects. Nunez has been like finding an oasis in the Sahara when you have exhausted your water supply. He’s an igniter in the lineup with a plethora of key hits. A daring runner on the base paths who puts the defense on edge and toss in the ability to play multiple positions.

Nunez’ salary is listed at $4.2 million and that will take a hefty increase as some team will pony up the money.  Will it be the Red Sox? The knee-jerk reaction is “no” since it is a matter of where do you play Nunez? Essentially a player without a position unless Dave Dombrowski makes a trade or two opening up a position. Assume that does not happen.  Then what?

Duplication of services and fiscal issues now become the key.  The Red Sox have Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero all capable of multiple positions, but certainly not with the same offensive ability of Nunez.  Marrero and Lin will be well under a million on the payroll and Holt may be gone.  There is, however, more – defense.

Defensively Marrero and Lin are excellent – especially Marrero.  For Nunez the picture at second, third and short clearly shows a metrics picture that hollers out – “average” – and I am being generous.

I would love to have Nunez on the Red Sox, but the reality is there is no room.  Nunez will be paid like a regular position player and will expect the games that go with it. As mentioned, the logjam situation could be rectified via trade, but there is one other issue that – to use a popular political term – “troubles” me. Julio Lugo.

Onward with the political theme, our nation is polarized and Red Sox Nation often reflects its own polarization, but with Lugo, it was almost universal on what are they thinking? If you made a top ten list of Red Sox free agent disasters, Lugo would be on it somewhere. There are eerie career similarities with Lugo and Nunez.

The Red Sox were fascinated by Lugo and saw him on a regular basis in his four seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Lugo could hit as his .287 Rays average shows.  In Tampa, Lugo stole 88 bases and had 40 home runs. Lugo also had fielding that matches up with Nunez by posting in 2006 a  -7.6 in UZR/150 that is nothing disastrous and nothing spectacular from primarily playing shortstop. Boston opened up the vault and Lugo had his nice salary bump.

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The Red Sox won it all in Lugo’s first season and Lugo hit just .237 in his new home. On the positive side, Lugo swiped 33 bases in 39 attempts and did produce 73 RBI along with eight home runs. Lugo also hit a very healthy .385 in the World Series sweep of the Colorado Rockies, but midway through 2009 the Red Sox took their losses and Lugo was gone.

The statistical parallels between Lugo and Nunez are similar as both were capable hitters, with above average speed and occasional power.  Defensively both are also quite similar. Lugo was brought to Boston to fill a specific need and it failed. Nunez has no gap to fill unless moves are made and unlike Lugo Nunez has proved himself “Boston ready.”

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My assumption is Nunez is almost a given to play elsewhere, but if somehow it is Boston this will not end like Lugo. So I may express caution, but Nunez appears to already won the love in Boston and Lugo did not.