Don’t look now, but Eduardo Nunez is heating up. The sometimes maligned, exiled third baseman turned left fielder is 7-20 with 2 HR and 4 RBI over his last 5 games, and is sitting at .300/.315/.471 with those two homers, six doubles, and 10 RBI overall in May. While many attribute the Giants improved play recently to the power surge from Buster Posey, in addition to the returns of Brandon Crawford and Denard Span to the line up, the increased production from Nunez cannot be overlooked.
The 2016 midseason acquisition ranks second on the team in hits, tied for second in RBI, tied for first in doubles, is third in runs scored and fourth in batting average. And while some may consider it the result of overaggressive “hacking” at the plate, his 8.8% K-rate is by far the lowest of his career. For a Giants team that brings very little overall speed to the table, it’s better to see the club’s biggest (only?) base stealing threat put the ball in play at a high rate.
Toss in the fact Nunez has made a few stellar grabs in left that have helped offset some of his early gaffes, and all of a sudden it appears that when Hunter Pence returns from the DL, San Francisco will have some semblance of a regular starting outfield. Nunez has already appeared in more games in left than any other Giant this season, and it looks like the club will allow Christian Arroyo to work through any struggles at the big league level.
So should we get used to the idea of Nunez as the starter moving forward as the team attempts to get back into the race? Or is he still merely an extended stop-gap solution?
Many Giants fans will be quick to shout that he could not possibly be a long-term fit in left field, and they could be right. After all, it took a series of unfortunate events and a black hole of production from the position to force the Giants to toss Nunez out there, figuring that at the very least they could keep his bat in the line up and deal with any defensive misadventures he may have.
But if Nunez continues to produce with the bat, improve in the field, and the club continues its upswing in the win column, does it become a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation? Or does it simply give the Giants more leverage to move Nunez at the deadline in order to acquire a “true” left fielder or a bullpen piece?
Unfortunately the longer Nunez plays left field, the less value he may have in a trade. Could the Giants still shop him as a third baseman after he spends two months in left field? It’s unlikely any contender looking to fill a hole in the outfield would place Nunez high on their list of viable targets, so he becomes more of a utility knife, and not one that will command a huge return by himself. The Giants would still need to include a package of prospects around him, and may be hesitant to do so given the sparse pickings in their minor league system.
Looking around the league at potential contenders who may look to add at the deadline, the Red Sox are the only team that could have a hole at third base. With the future of Pablo Sandoval uncertain, Boston has seen little production from the position as they’ve shuffled through several players. Deven Marrero, brother of Chris Marrero, is the current starter and comes in to Monday with a .139/.184/.194 line. The Red Sox starting outfield (Benintendi, Bradley, Betts) is untouchable, but an experienced bullpen arm like Joe Kelly could be a potential target for Evans and Co.
Aside from Boston, San Francisco could have trouble finding a market for Nunez. If that’s the case, perhaps we will see the 29 year-old make the full transition to the outfield as the season progresses.
The Giants have won three championships without the benefit of a “real” left fielder, maybe it’s their rabbit’s foot in disguise.