The Boston Red Sox got marginally better Tuesday night, which is what contending teams do at the trade deadline. But there are still needs to address.
The Red Sox acquired utility man Eduardo Nunez from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for a pair of minor league pitchers. Nunez is expected to join the club Friday when the Sox return to Fenway Park to open a 10-game homestand.
Make no mistake: Nunez won’t tilt the American League East race back in Boston’s favor after the New York Yankees’ most recent moves. Nunez is what he is, an average 30-year-old utility player in the final year of his contract who should give the Red Sox some temporary depth and help in the constant quest to solidify third base.
Nunez’s biggest selling point is his ability to play multiple positions. He’s spent the bulk of the last two seasons playing third base, but he actually has more career experience at shortstop. He should feel comfortable no matter how the Red Sox use him, whether it’s at third base or as an insurance policy for Xander Bogaerts, who continues to fight a hand injury. Nunez also has experience at second base where he can spell Dustin Pedroia from time to time, and he also can play outfield.
How the addition of Nunez affects Rafael Devers will be the most interesting aspect of this trade. Devers made his much-anticipated debut Tuesday night, though Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski admitted Devers could return to the minor leagues. But Boston should still give Devers a handful of games to see if he’s able to adjust on the fly. The perfect scenario would be that Devers hits the ground running, shoring up the third base fiasco while also providing the lineup with some much-needed thump. Nunez then could be used as a depth piece, playing third base against left-handers and being used as a pinch runner (18 steals this season) and pinch hitter late in games.
That’s probably the best use of the veteran. Nunez offers more offensive potential than other Red Sox bench players like Deven Marrero and Brock Holt, and the Red Sox are getting him in the midst of his hottest streak of the season. Nunez is hitting .358 (39-for-109) since June 1, with 12 extra-base hits and just 10 strikeouts over that time. But plugging him into the everyday lineup and expecting that production to continue seems foolish. Nunez rarely strikes out and he almost never (ever) walks. He also hasn’t hit for much power at all this season (four home runs).
So if he’s not walking, not striking out and not hitting for power, there’s a whole lot of chance involved when he’s putting the ball in play. Baseball has a way of evening that out.
He’s also never going to win a Gold Glove. Among third basemen with at least 400 innings this season, Nunez ranks 24th out of 27 in UZR (-3.4) and 18th in defensive runs saved (-3).
But if you’re not expecting him to do too much, Nunez is a good enough depth player. He makes the Red Sox marginally better, and the cost to acquire him likely won’t hurt the team in the long term. But if the Red Sox are depending on Nunez to somehow save their offense and play All-Star-level third base, that won’t happen, either.
Nunez doesn’t satisfy the club’s biggest needs. The Red Sox still need to find power somewhere, and they need to bolster the bullpen. He’ll help the ballclub but certainly not enough to put them over the top. It’s a “meh” move for a team that needs a little more than that to solidify itself as a legitimate World Series contender.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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