No, Eduardo Nunez won’t suddenly transform the Red Sox lineup into a proverbial Murderers’ Row.
However, in acquiring the versatile 30-year-old for two minor league pitchers, the Red Sox added a solid big leaguer who offers arguably the best insurance policy on the trade market while also keeping their options open to pursue a power-hitter and/or a reliever while still remaining under the $195 million luxury tax threshold.
What the Red Sox got
Nunez, a free-agent-to-be, has a career-high .308 average and .334 OBP this year, along with a .417 slugging percentage, four homers, and 17 steals in 75 games. Though he’s spent most of the year playing third, he’s bounced between the hot corner, shortstop, left field, and right field. While he finished the first half on the disabled list due to a hamstring injury, Nunez had moved well in recent days leading up to the trade.
Nunez offered the Giants impressively consistent production against both righties (.310/.333/.413) and lefties (.299/.326/.414). Though he’s performed respectably while playing in a home park that is hostile to offense, forging a .299/.320/.375 line at AT&T Park, Nunez’s numbers have enjoyed a notable uptick (.314/.341/.449) on the road. He hasn’t been as pull-heavy this year as in the past, but his pre-2017 profile showed a penchant for pulling the ball down the line in a way that could benefit from Fenway Park’s cozy dimensions.
Nunez grades as an adequate rather than spectacular defender, and his contact-heavy, free-swinging tendencies don’t seem to represent the antidote to the Red Sox’ season-long power shortage. That said, he’s a versatile player who offers an established righthanded bat who has dealt with life in the AL East as a Yankee.
Why that’s important
Nunez was acquired as a complement rather than replacement for Rafael Devers. The Sox have been living something of a charmed life with Deven Marrero at third, as the 26-year-old owns a .304/.340/.609 line against lefties this year. But those numbers are far removed from his multi-year Triple A track record.
Nunez offers a greater likelihood of production for the Red Sox’ Bermuda Triangle at third base – while also offering the club an established fallback should Devers prove unready for the big leagues.
Third base is merely one critical area where Nunez can offer the Red Sox an insurance policy. He also offers the team alternatives in case of injury or underperformance by shortstop Xander Bogaerts (who owned a .171/.238/.237 line in the injury-riddled month preceding Tuesday night’s game), utilityman Brock Holt (hitting .226/.265/.226 in 10 games since his return from vertigo), or fourth outfielder Chris Young (.244/.328/.384 – including .222/.329/.302 against lefties).
In a way, Nunez gives the Sox a Holt-like presence at a time when it is unclear whether Holt can provide that sort of contribution.
What did the Red Sox give up?
First, it’s worth noting what the Red Sox did not give up: They did not part with any of their best prospects. They did not give up their best position prospects (including Blake Swihart, Sam Travis, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, Josh Ockimey, and C.J. Chatham). They didn’t cut ties with their best pitching prospects (Jay Groome, Bryan Mata, Brian Johnson) or anyone who looked poised to provide depth in the next two years. Instead, the Red Sox sent intriguing lower-levels righthanders Shaun Anderson (a 2016 third-rounder out of the University of Florida) and Gregory Santos to the Giants for Nunez.
Anderson, a 2016 third-rounder, is 6-3 with a 3.42 ERA, 7.9 strikeouts, and 2.7 walks per nine innings this year between Single A Greenville and High A Salem. He’s been particularly impressive of late in Salem, with a 1.53 ERA, 21 strikeouts, and just two walks over his last 17 2/3 innings spanning three starts.
Though a college reliever, Anderson showed a sufficiently intriguing four-pitch mix anchored by a 92-93 m.p.h. fastball that the Red Sox decided to develop him as a starter. Still, without a clear swing-and-miss weapon as a starter, many evaluators believe that his future will be back in the bullpen.
Santos, 17, was the Red Sox’ best prospect in the Dominican Summer League, forging a 0.90 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 15 walks in 30 innings. He allowed earned runs in just two of his seven starts. But as a player who is years from physical maturity, Santos is a lottery ticket rather than a projectable future big leaguer.
As significant: The absence of Anderson and Santos from the system won’t prevent the Red Sox from making any other moves.
But what about a slugger or setup man?
Perhaps one of the crucial takeaways from the acquisition of Nunez is the Red Sox added a player who offers the possibility of a roster upgrade while doing little to limit themselves over the remaining days leading up to the trade deadline.
The Sox will add about $1.5 million to their payroll in order to bring Nunez aboard. That leaves them with (conservatively) $5 million to $6 million that they can add without exceeding the luxury tax threshold.
In other words, the dollars involved in the Nunez deal don’t prevent the Red Sox from moving to add a power hitter, a setup man, or even both. The team could take on the salaries of both Lucas Duda and Addison Reed of the Mets, for instance. They could pursue A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso and Phillies righthander Pat Neshek.
Whether the Sox would want to part with the prospects necessary to acquire some combination of those players remains to be seen. That said, the departure of Anderson and Santos shouldn’t meaningfully impede the Sox’ ability to strike other deals.
In short, Nunez affords the Sox a relatively low-risk, modest upgrade who makes their roster better without preventing the team from additional improvements.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.