The Red Sox made a series of roster moves that reshaped the back end of their roster Monday. In so doing, the team highlighted a free agent signing that did not work out as intended.
The team called up first baseman Sam Travis and righthander Ryan Weber. To clear roster space for the duo, the club optioned righthander Hector Velazquez to Triple A Pawtucket and, most notably, designated Eduardo Nunez for assignment.
“It’s a tough one because he’s very likable, he meant a lot to the clubhouse and to the team, but that’s part of this,” manager Alex Cora. said before the Red Sox defeated the Orioles, 10-8, on Monday night at Fenway Park. “You make tough decisions, and you have to move on.”
The Red Sox acquired Nunez in a trade from the Giants (in exchange for righthanded pitchers Shaun Anderson — now in the Giants rotation — and Gregory Santos) in July 2017. He provided a much-needed jolt over the next six weeks, hitting .321/.353/.539 with eight homers in 38 games and making an important contribution to a surge that helped the Red Sox win the AL East.
But a knee injury rendered him all but completely unable to play in the final weeks of that season and postseason. The Sox, convinced that he was healthy, signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal in February 2018 that included a $4 million player option or a $2 million buyout to give the team insurance at second base for Dustin Pedroia.
In essence, it was a one-year, $6 million deal structured to minimize the luxury-tax hit of the deal in 2018, part of a plan to stay under the highest luxury-tax threshold and avoid a draft pick penalty. Yet the Sox still ended up going past the threshold in 2018, thus enduring the 10-pick penalty.
Nunez played in 127 games in 2018, but his knee never returned to full strength last season, and he posted a .265/.289/.388 line. His struggles and the inability of Pedroia to play led the Sox to trade for Ian Kinsler at the cost of a pair of relievers, most notably Ty Buttrey.
Nunez did contribute in the postseason, both to a Game 4 ALDS win over the Yankees he punctuated with a terrific play at third base and with a pinch-hit three-run homer in Game 1 of the World Series.
Coming off that season, Nunez exercised his player option — which increased to $5 million (or $3 million more than his buyout) thanks to his 2018 playing time. Though healthy this year, his numbers got worse, with Nunez posting a .228/.243/.305 line while struggling defensively at second. Of the 365 players with at least 100 plate appearances this year, his .548 OPS ranked 350th. Against lefties, he hit .200/.240/.314.
With his productivity minimal and his dwindling playing time creating no avenue for him to get into a rhythm, the Sox made the decision to walk away from the last 2½ months of his deal.
“It wasn’t working out against lefties,” said Cora. “Where we’re at roster-wise, Michael [Chavis] is going to play against lefties and righties most of the time. I feel that we need more offense against lefthanded pitching.”
Travis had been hitting .275/.362/.432 with Triple A Pawtucket, including a .326/.348/.506 line against lefties. He’ll play first against lefthanded starters, with Chavis playing second.
Velazquez is 1-4 with a 5.67 ERA in 24 big league games this year. Weber is 1-1 with a 5.12 ERA in the big leagues and 1-2 with a 5.16 ERA for the PawSox.
Eovaldi gets closer
Righthander Nate Eovaldi threw a simulated inning against Red Sox teammates Mitch Moreland and Sandy Leon on Monday afternoon, throwing 25 pitches.
“Not fun,” reported Leon. “He looked really good. His fastball command was really good, threw a couple breaking balls, cutters, splitties.”
Eovaldi, who has been out since undergoing surgery in mid-April due to surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow and then biceps tendinitis experienced during the rehab process, felt that his command initially was rusty, but, more important, he felt good life in his arm and on his pitches.
“My arm feels great now,” said Eovaldi, who had thrown bullpen sessions last Wednesday and Friday. “Everything coming out felt really good.”
Cora said that the righthander is slated to start a rehab assignment, most likely in Triple A Pawtucket, on either Wednesday or Thursday so long as he doesn’t experience a setback.
Andrew Cashner, who will make his Red Sox debut on Tuesday after being acquired from the Orioles on Saturday, will be facing an opponent against whom he’s excelled. In eight starts against Toronto since 2016, Cashner is 3-2 with a 2.49 ERA while averaging more than six innings per start . . . Moreland (quadriceps strain) faced Eovaldi and then took grounders at first. He’ll likely head to Triple A Pawtucket in the coming days with the possibility of being activated for the weekend series in Baltimore. “He’s getting close,” said Cora . . . Lefty Brian Johnson, on the injured list since June 29 due to a non-baseball medical matter, is close to facing Sox hitters in a simulated setting . . . With a double by Mookie Betts leading off the bottom of the first inning, the Red Sox extended their streak of consecutive games with an extra-base hit to 108, the longest active streak in the majors . . . Shortstop Cameron Cannon, the second-rounder who was the top Red Sox draft pick in 2019, joined the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League.