Per Jack Curry, the Yankees will be sending fan favorite Eduardo Nunez down to AAA to make room for the return of Eric Chavez from the disabled list. Nunez has been a polarizing figure among Yankee fans since he established himself as the primary utilityman off the bench. He has shown flashes of an above-average bat, great base-stealing ability, and the versatility to play 3 infield positions (plus the corner outfield in emergencies). These are all skills that make him a very valuable backup for the Yankees.
However, despite all of Nunez’s assets, his defense is a major liability that has held him back from being a starting caliber player. It very well may have cost him his job on the major league roster. Nunez has committed 4 errors on the season (as well as several other muffed plays that were not scored as errors), including 2 last night that might have forced Brian Cashman’s hand. He will reportedly play shortstop every day in AAA, which could very well spell the end of the Nunez as utilityman experiment.
Nunez has hit fairly well this season (.294/.356/.373) and also helped the team weather injuries to Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, and Eric Chavez by playing 5 different positions. However, he has not played them particularly well, and his miscues in the field are outweighing the positive contributions he has made in the batter’s box and on the basepaths.
What has made Nunez so maddening to watch is that he does have the physical tools to be a decent defender, but does not seem to be able to establish any kind of consistency. While Nunez has had error problems since his career in the minors (particularly with his throws), the hope was that he would be able to work out his issues (mechanical, mental, etc.). So far, he seems to have had little success on that front, and he continues to be almost as gaffe-prone as Vice President Biden.
The Yankees hope that giving Nunez the opportunity to play every day in the minors will help him figure out his issues. For a player with known problems defensively, the Yankees did not exactly put Nunez in the best position to succeed. It is possible that his difficulties could be contributed in part to receiving sporadic playing time at a variety of positions, including several that did not spend any significant time playing in the minor leagues. It is also possible that he simply is, and always will be, a mediocre defender, as he has been throughout his short career.
Nunez will get another chance to prove himself in the minors, and for his sake I hope he is able to turn things around. He may not have much of a future in pinstripes beyond his previous role as a backup, though he could be quite useful in that role again if he can get his throwing under control. Given the low offensive bar that major league shortstops set, he could conceivably be a a starter somewhere else in the not too distant future.
If the Yankees are going to play Nunez full-time at shortstop while in AAA, then his supersub role is likely over. I would not be opposed to seeing Nunez continue to get reps at 3rd or the outfield on occasion, though with Chavez and Swisher back the opportunities to play those positions in the majors will be greatly decreased. Nonetheless, he is still likely the Yankees’ best backup option at shortstop and probably 2nd base (though Cano doesn’t really take days off), so it would be nice to get him back in the bigs at some point. Until he can get Nunez defense sorted out, Jayson Nix will likely replace him as the main middle-infield backup. Nix is not the same threat offensively or on the bases that Nunez is, but he should be a more reliable defensive presence in the near term, and help lower the collective blood pressure of the Yankee fan base.
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