Red Sox: Health of Eduardo Nunez could trigger roster choices
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox have a competent second base option in Eduardo Nunez. What if Nunez is not ready? What will be the roster decision impacts?
Just how important is Eduardo Nunez? With the ongoing recovery of Dustin Pedroia that is a very easy question – probably would not even make the cut on Jeopardy. In 2017. Nunez was a spark, igniter, and some other choice positives to describe his impact on a Boston Red Sox team that seemed as motivated as a sleepwalker.
Filling in for Pedroia was a key as Nunez had 25 starts at second base for the bulk of his 38 Boston games. If you wish upscale defensive work than think Deven Marrero as Nunez can best be classified as acceptable, ordinary, passable all depending on your point of view. Where Nunez made his big impact was a .321 average and a surprising eight home runs.
Has Nunez recovered from his own knee issues? Spring training will give an insight into that and especially Nunez’s quickness and speed – two most important ingredients in the Nunez player package. So, a leap of faith and Nunez is back in pre-injury form. And that goes back to importance but in a different approach. His importance will filter down the roster and impact jobs. A healthy Nunez could signal a trade or return to the minors for some.
A Nunez that needs “A little time” could be a baseball life vest for Marrero. Marrero had a nice 2017 in Boston despite hitting just .211. The calling card was his steady and often spectacular defense. With four home runs and 27 RBI in 171 at-bats, Marrero showed an uptick in offense. What do you do with him?
With a healthy Nunez and an out of options Marrero, the die may be cast. There is no way Marrero will slip through the legislative cracks and end up in Pawtucket. At 27-years-old his career is being determined as a utility player and one that can bring a more than a solid glove to the late innings and with Rafael Devers at third that is certainly needed. Marrero’s chances with Boston increase or decrease dependent upon Nunez.
Next up in the out of options parade is Blake Swihart. Has Swihart returned to the promised land projected for him before injuries took it all away? The .407 in the Dominican Winter League and early spring training performances showed years lost may be an unfortunate memory.
Swihart’s issue is a lack of versatility experience. The Red Sox have moved Swihart around this spring, but his volume of work aside from catching is minimal. Swihart’s path to the roster is probably more depended upon Sandy Leon. Is Leon expendable? Would Leon pass through the waiver process? The Red Sox also have Oscar Hernandez who is an excellent defensive catcher. As far as hitting I would say Hernandez is an excellent defensive catcher.
With a Nunez on the shelf in early April the Red Sox could keep Swihart in the fold, but if Nunez is 100%, or close to it, look for Swihart to be behind Marrero, Brock Holt and Tzu-Wei Lin on the depth chart. And that brings us to Lin and Holt.
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Lin has options and unless he suddenly morphs into Wade Boggs with hitting his shelf life for “The Big Club” is limited for now. Lin can play multiple positions and play them well and has enjoyed some centerfield work in Pawtucket in 2017 and now at Ft. Myers. Never say never, but I see Lin going to picturesque Pawtucket.
Holt was once the charmed one in Boston, but his stock has dropped like the DOW recently has. Never a great defender, but a gritty hard at-bat player who hit just .200 in an injury-riddled 2017. Holt is also above the $2 million mark and pennies seem to occasionally count is roster decisions – even with the Red Sox.
If Nunez is unable to come to the starting line, then Holt could most certainly be on the roster and quite possibly the second baseman for April. Holt could easily have a roster spot even with a healthy Nunez since he has veteran experience.
Alex Cora is the manager but in his career as a player, Cora was Holt, Marrero, and Lin. If anyone on this team has firsthand knowledge of the complexities of the utility position it is Cora. He was a baseball nomad wandering the landscape of employment and often being in the situation of the possibility of being unceremoniously cut.
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Cora knows the job description and he will know his team and just who may fill in on the bench if Nunez is ready to go or not. But the reality is many dominoes are in place and they will move as Nunez’s level of ability to play becomes clear.