The hot stove is still very cool this winter, especially where the Pittsburgh Pirates are concerned, but the Bucs need to find an upgrade at third base.
A guy that makes perfect sens for the Pirates is Eduardo Nunez.
Nunez is a hitter, and while he doesn’t possess the elite power you would like from a corner infielder, he is very capable with the bat and would represent an instant upgrade at the position.
Profile and Performance
Nunez is coming off a fine season in which he hit .313/.341/.460 to go with 12 homers and 24 stolen bases. An .801 OPS is nice to have from a guy who traditionally doesn’t hit a ton of homers, hitting a career high 16 in 2016.
He also owns a career slash line of .282/.320/.415.
Nunez doesn’t strike out a ton, gets on base at a decent clip, and can also create with his legs as he has stolen over 20 bases three times in his career; including 40 in 2016.
It’s a perfect situation as Nunez, a right-handed hitter, has done very well against right-handed pitching in his career. He’s also hit southpaws pretty well, but Nunez playing against righties and Freese getting some starts against lefties seems like it would work out well.
There’s a lot to like about Nunez and while he has a ton of versatility defensively, it would be nice to come in every day knowing he is going to play third base. The Pirates have enough guys that can bounce around the field.
Nunez’s name is one that could be written in at third base on the lineup card every day.
The case for Nunez
- Plain and simple, the Pirates need a third baseman and Nunez is there for the taking. Nunez is a bit of an upgrade from Freese, but together they could put up a .275/.340/.420 type of season with 20-25 homers and 85-100 RBI. That would be quite the upgrade from what the team got at the position last season.
- The speed. On a team without much power, Nunez’s speed adds another dimension. With quite a few guys that can run and swipe bases, adding an athlete like Nunez can put some pressure on opposing defense.
- Won’t have to invest long term. Nunez won’t be cheap, but he won’t demand a nine figure contract like most power-hitting third baseman. He would be a two or three year stop gap and one the Pirates can realistically afford. They just have to be willing to spend a little bit, which is always a conversation to itself.
The case against Nunez
- Plenty of competition. There will be plenty of teams that can use his services and the Pirates are likely to be the most frugal of them all. The San Francisco Giants need a third baseman and may look to a reunion with Nunez. And contenders like the Washington Nationals and others are always looking to add quality depth. The Bucs can offer a chance to play almost every day, which could be a bargaining chip. However if their is any kind of bidding war, the Pirates will not win.
- Nunez doesn’t typically walk much, which is why the career OBP is down around .320, but that’s a bit of nitpicking as he does a lot well with the bat.
- Power. Signing Nunez makes the Pirates better, but it still does very little in terms of helping this team find power. The Pirates aren’t keeping up with the trend of where MLB Baseball is going in terms of the long ball and that is a concern.
What it might take
I look for Nunez to get a 2-3 year deal in the $7-8 million per year range.
Let’s split the difference and call it two years/ $15 million.
The Pirates can afford that, if they choose.
The Pirates need a third baseman and Nunez is a good fit.
They won’t be in the bidding for Mike Moustakas or Todd Frazier so Nunez is the next best thing on the market. They could always look to try and acquire a third baseman via trade, but at the end of the day I don’t see that happening either.
My gut feeling is that the Pirates should go after Nunez, but they won’t. If they do, they won’t go hard and will be outbid by one or more teams.
It could be another season of Freese at third for the Bucs.