Yesterday Rob Piersall took a look at whether Jason Kipnis could be a trade target for the Mets this offseason. Today we pose the question of whether or not Eduardo Nunez would be a good free agent signing for the Mets.
Unlike Kipnis, the Mets would only have to pay Nunez instead of paying him and giving up prospects. However, as Mets fans know, the team will not be spending a large amount of money this offseason. During the season Sandy Alderson would not commit to matching the 2017 Opening Day payroll of $155 million for 2018.
On Monday Marc Carig of Newsday wrote about the Mets having about $30 million to spend this offseason. That number is arbitrary of course, but all signs point to the Mets spending like a small-market team in a big market yet again. All potential offseason targets must pass the Mets’ litmus test of whether they will make a valuable-enough impact to be worth the limited funds the Mets are willing to use.
The Mets’ In-House Options at Second
Last year Neil Walker played the majority of games at second base with 68. Following him were Asdrubal Cabrera (32), Jose Reyes (27), Gavin Cecchini (20), Wilmer Flores (12), T.J. Rivera (12), Matt Reynolds (eight), Phillip Evans (two), and Travis d’Arnaud (1).
As of now Walker and Reyes are not on the team, Cabrera appears to be a lock at third base, Reynolds has yet to show anything in 202 major league at-bats, and d’Arnaud will obviously be spending his playing time at catcher. Evans put up a nice .303/.395/.364 slash line in 33 at-bats, but would have to play his way just to get into the conversation.
That really leaves Rivera, Cecchini, and Flores as viable options if the Mets didn’t sign or trade for someone to play second.
Cecchini was a first-round pick for the Mets in 2012 and may have a decent future in MLB. However, he struggled both offensively and defensively during his major league stint in 2017 and it would be irresponsible for a team claiming to be competing for a World Series in 2018 to give him the starting second baseman job.
Now we get to Flores and Rivera. Both players are capable of being the starter at second base. Perhaps the two could even share time at the position?
Basically Flores is a power threat who has had a good history with driving in runners. He does not play good defense nor does he get on base much when it’s not via a base hit. In 2017 he hit .271/.307/.488/.795 with 42 runs scored, 18 home runs, and 52 RBI in 336 at-bats across 110 games played. That was good for a 1.0 0WAR. His overall defense was again not great, but he didn’t do as poorly at second base in comparison to third base. FanGraphs lists his UZR in 91 innings at second base to be 0.1 which is better compared to his -.2.8 UZR in 425 2/3 innings at third base. Overall Flores was good for a -0.2 WAR which isn’t great looking ahead.
Rivera played 73 games in 2017 before his season was cut short due to injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery on Sep. 14 and his status for Opening Day is questionable. However, Rivera will be back sometime in 2018 and should figure into the equation at second base one way or another.
Rivera is a similar player to Flores in certain ways. He too is an offensively-minded player who mostly gets on base via the base hit rather than the base on balls. He too does not play stellar defense. Where he differs is that he’s a better pure hitter than Flores, but he doesn’t possess as much power. His dWAR of -0.5 shows his lack of defense, but it is an improvement over Flores’ -1.3 dWAR. Overall Rivera has put up a 0.6 WAR and 0.4 WAR in his two brief MLB seasons.
Is Nunez An Upgrade?
Now that all the viable in-house options have been discussed, we can truly see if Nunez is an upgrade or not. In short: yes he is.
In 2017 Nunez split time between the San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox. Between those two teams he hit .313/.341/.460/.801 with 60 runs scored, 12 home runs, 58 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. He put up a 1.3 oWAR with the Giants and a 1.2 oWAR with the Red Sox. Overall he put up a 0.3 WAR with the Giants and a 0.9 WAR with the Red Sox.
Nunez doesn’t possess as much power as Flores. Also similar to both players, he doesn’t walk much. However, for the most part he combines the strengths of both Flores and Rivera as he hits for some power, drives in a decent amount of runs, and hits for a high batting average. What really sets Nunez apart from Flores and Rivera is his speed. In 2017 he stole 24 bases. A year prior he stolen a career-high 40.
One of Nunez’s weak points in his career is his defense. His best defensive year according to dWAR was in 2015 when he had a 0.6 dWAR. That was not too impressive. In 2017 he put up a -1.0 dWAR with the Giants and a -0.2 dWAR with the Red Sox. Nunez would not be a clear an upgrade over Rivera or Flores in terms of defense. Actually his -1.8 UZR in 213 2/3 innings at second base in 2017 according to FanGraphs is lower than Flores’ 0.1 UZR in 91 innings at the same position.
The justification for signing Nunez should not be that he would be a significant defensive upgrade. It must be that he is a better all-around offensive player.
Is Nunez Worth Signing?
If the Mets decide to sign Nunez this offseason, it shouldn’t be viewed too negatively. He would ameliorate the current situation at second base.
However, when considering all the Mets’ needs and their limited funds, signing him shouldn’t be a priority at all. While he is an upgrade, he is not an enormous upgrade. There are some other glaring needs that the Mets could improve even more so with a similar amount of money.
Now the question is posed to you Mets fans. Would you like to see Nunez in the orange and blue?