Red Sox designating Eduardo Nunez for assignment highlights wasteful spending

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 30: Eduardo Nunez #36 of the Boston Red Sox grounds out in the second inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 30, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 30: Eduardo Nunez #36 of the Boston Red Sox grounds out in the second inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 30, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox designated Eduardo Nunez for assignment, turning him into another sunk cost that hinders their ability to spend on pitching.

A series of roster moves announced by the Boston Red Sox on Monday included the news that infielder Eduardo Nunez has been designated for assignment.

While this decision was a bit unexpected, we really shouldn’t be all that surprised. Nunez has been one of the worst position players in baseball this season. His -1.3 WAR is next to last in the American League and his .548 OPS places him above only three hitters with 150+ at-bats.

Nunez has spent time at three infield positions but is no longer capable of fielding any of them particularly well. He’s become a liability in the field in recent years and his complete collapse of offensive production sealed his fate.

He was popular in the clubhouse and became a fan-favorite for his gutsy postseason performance but the truth is that Nunez hasn’t been the same player since injuring his knee a couple of years ago. It was time to move on.

Unfortunately, Boston can’t move on yet from the damage Nunez’ salary does to their budget. If Nunez signs with another team and is added to their major league roster, a prorated portion of the major league minimum will be deducted from what the Red Sox owe him. It’s unlikely any team will rush to scoop him up so Boston should expect to pay his full salary despite that he’s no longer with the organization.

The $5 million player option that Nunez picked up for this season seems like chunk change compared to several of the massive contracts on the Red Sox payroll. It’s not an insignificant amount though when you combine it with the other sunk costs bogging down Boston’s budget.

Are you wondering why the Red Sox don’t have room in the budget to make a bold move at the trade deadline? It’s because they’ve invested so much money in players who have given them nothing.

Eduardo Nunez – $5 million, -1.3 WAR, designated for assignment
Tyler Thornburg – $1.75 million, 0.0 WAR, released
Steve Pearce – $6.25 million, -0.6 WAR, injured
Nathan Eovaldi – $17 million, 0.0 WAR, injured

That’s $30 million tied up on four players who have contributed negative value! That’s without factoring in that Pablo Sandoval still counts against the payroll for luxury tax purposes. That money could have been used to overhaul the bullpen with a legitimate closer plus a setup man or two. Instead, they poured gasoline on that pile of cash and lit it on fire.

Pearce is a 36-year old journeyman without a clear path to regular playing time. The Red Sox overpaid to keep him because he was the World Series MVP. Eovaldi comes with an enormous injury red flag after undergoing multiple Tommy John surgeries yet the Red Sox gave him a lucrative four-year deal anyway. Both players were rewarded for their postseason heroics and it backfired.

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The Red Sox could have refused to tender Thornburg a contract in his final year of arbitration, allowing him to become a free agent. Their desire to squeeze some value out of the ill-fated Travis Shaw trade three years earlier led to Thornburg getting one more shot. It didn’t go well and didn’t last long but his salary remains on the books.

The situation with Nunez was a bit different since he had a player option. The regrettable decision to re-sign him came the previous winter when Nunez was coming off a strong season, serving as a second-half spark plug following a trade with the San Francisco Giants. His production that year was worthy of the deal he received but it doesn’t account for the knee injury he suffered in the postseason that has since derailed his career.

Knowing he was recovering from a significant injury at the time, Boston shouldn’t have given Nunez a multi-year deal. Or the second year should have been a team option. The Red Sox could have created more wiggle room in their budget if they exercised the $2 million buyout in his contract yet they brought Nunez back despite his production clearly slipping last season.

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Boston has MLB’s highest payroll in part because they aren’t shy about splurging on star talent but also because they have invested so much money in role players who haven’t panned out. With ownership insisting on avoiding the third tier of luxury tax penalties, for financial as well as baseball reasons, these poor decisions have hamstrung the front office’s ability to improve this roster at the trade deadline.