Re-signing Eduardo Nunez might end up being the Boston Red Sox’s most important offseason move.
Whoa. Wait, what?
Sure, the Red Sox desperately needed a power boost and signing J.D. Martinez significantly improves their lineup. It’s a safe bet he’ll make a sizable impact this season. But Nunez safeguards against multiple potential flaws in Boston’s roster, all while providing a jolt of energy that Red Sox manager Alex Cora is very familiar with. The new Sox skipper had to prepare for the veteran utility man while serving as the Houston Astros’ bench coach last season when the teams hooked up in the American League Division Series.
“It was an explosive offense with him from Pitch 1,” Cora told reporters Thursday in Fort Myers at Red Sox spring training, per WEEI.com. “It was a different dynamic. He brought energy, he was dangerous at the plate and the baserunning part of it, he was a factor. We had to prepare for two different teams, in a sense: one with Eduardo, one without him.”
Nunez suffered a knee injury last season that sidelined him for much of September and ultimately led to him being carted off the field in Game 1 of the ALDS. It’s hard to complain about the results when Nunez was healthy, though. He batted .321 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs, six stolen bases and an .892 OPS in 38 regular season games with Boston after a midseason trade from the San Francisco Giants in addition to showing off the defensive versatility the Red Sox coveted.
“You had to be ready from Pitch 1, and that makes a difference,” Cora said of Nunez. “At that point, I read a stat not too long ago, when he signed, I think the difference of runs per game were way higher. He’s just that energy burst. He was hitting the ball out of the ballpark. He’s a dynamic player. He’s a different guy and he made that lineup a lot different.”
The Red Sox averaged 4.79 runs per game without Nunez last season, according to ESPN.com. They scored 5.03 runs per game with him. His presence gave Boston’s entire lineup a different look and feel thanks to his above-average speed, sneaky power and overall aggressiveness.
That alone should have been enough to keep Nunez on the Red Sox’s radar once he hit free agency, but bringing him back became especially important after Dustin Pedroia underwent offseason knee surgery that could sideline him into May. Cora confirmed Thursday that Nunez will be the Red Sox’s starting second baseman come Opening Day, and one shouldn’t overlook his importance long after that in the event Pedroia’s return to action doesn’t go as smoothly as Boston anticipates.
And if Pedroia returns without any issues? Well, Nunez can play all around the diamond, ensuring he’ll still receive plenty of playing time and, thus, plenty of chances to continue making the impact he made last season. This could be critical with there being other questions in the infield, namely how Rafael Devers responds to being Boston’s everyday third baseman for a full season and whether shortstop Xander Bogaerts can bounce back after a lackluster 2017.
Right now, it’s nearly impossible to project how many games Nunez will play, how many plate appearances he’ll log or where he’ll primarily be stationed on the field when October rolls around. Interestingly, that uncertainty actually bodes well for Boston, as it speaks to the Red Sox not having a black hole in their lineup when everyone’s healthy, while being well prepared to handle any such issue that might arise over the course of a 162-game schedule.
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