The Houston Astros have won just the World Series, and the 2017 Major League Baseball season is officially in the books. Thursday morning, news of a five-year, $106 million deal between former Padre Justin Upton and the Los Angeles Angels was announced, firing up the hot stove chatter of the off-season.
For Padres fans, this is the time of year where we all play the guessing game regarding what the team will do to fill the gaping hole at shortstop for yet another season. The team hasn’t seen a consistent player at the position since Everth Cabrera held it down. Alexi Amarista, Alexei Ramirez, Clint Barmes, Adam Rosales, and Erick Aybar are just a few names that have briefly seen time at short over the past few years. None have provided any real solution.
Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the Padres shortstop dilemma is less dire than it has been in the past. Top shortstop prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr., is quickly rising through the ranks of the Padres’ minor league system and should be with the team within a year or two. He clearly appears to be the team’s shortstop of the future.
What the Padres need now is to fill the hole with someone who can tide us over until Tatis’ arrival. By that logic, we could see another year of Aybar, but I think there is a slightly better option available this offseason; one that could give Padres fans a little bit more excitement at the position than what they’ve grown accustomed to. This move could potentially be a solid segue from the Amarista/Ramirez/Aybar years to the Tatis era.
Eduardo Nunez became a free agent at the end of the 2017 season. He’s a veteran shortstop who was once being considered as a candidate to be Derek Jeter’s replacement by the New York Yankees. He has spent time with the Yankees, the Minnesota Twins, the San Francisco Giants, and the Boston Red Sox. He was named to the American League All-Star team in 2016 and has been a significant contributor on each roster that he has been a member of.
Since the beginning of the 2016 season, Nunez has been a high caliber player at the plate and on the basepaths. His numbers reflect this. His slash line is .299/.332/.445 with 64 stolen bases, a BABIP of .323 and a wRC+ of 106 in 1085 plate appearances. Certainly, if he was able to replicate those numbers moving forward, he would provide an immediate upgrade in production for the Padres from a spot where it has been seriously lacking.
Another benefit of signing Nunez would be his versatility. He is primarily a shortstop, but he can play almost anywhere on the field. In fact, he hasn’t had many opportunities at short during the last few seasons because he has played in San Francisco with Brandon Crawford and Boston with Xander Bogaerts. He can fill in around the infield, at second and third, as well as in the outfield. If luck is on our side and Tatis is able to join the Padres towards the end of the 2018 season, that wouldn’t necessarily displace Nunez. He could still contribute significantly to the team from elsewhere on the field.
If the Padres decides to trade from the team’s current surplus of infielders, adding Nunez would be an even more sensible move because he would be a versatile infield piece, but with the ability to play shortstop; a valuable addition to complement a necessary subtraction or two.
Nunez is coming off of a one-year deal that he signed with the Giants for $4.2 million. If the Padres are able to sign him on a similar deal for under $5 million that seems like a reasonable expense for his services. Yes, it’s a little bit more than the team is used to spending on free agent shortstops, but he is of a higher quality than what has been trotted out onto the field as of late. He is certainly going to be more affordable than Zack Cozart, whose name has been linked to the Padres recently.
If the team is planning to attempt the tank for one more season, then maybe Nunez doesn’t make sense. Maybe sending Aybar, or even Jose Rondon, back out there would be more in line with that strategy. I think if the team wants to begin its ascent in 2018, a signing like Nunez is the perfect way to start. He’s versatile, he’s consistent, and he will give the fans a reprieve from the clown act that they have watched at shortstop in recent years.