Abbot and Costello’s iconic comedy routine aptly describes the New York Yankees’ options at the hot corner for 2014 – “I Don’t Know’s on third.”
Alex Rodriguez may be suspended for the entire 2014 season for his role in the Biogenesis scandal. Kevin Youkilis and Mark Reynolds are both free agents, and neither is worth the price tag to re-sign them. And though Jayson Nix is serviceable in a utility role, he is not a good enough hitter to have the full-time starting job.
But the Yankees do not need to resort to free agency. Eduardo Nunez has shown recently he deserves the starting job at third if Rodriguez is ineligible to play.
The biggest knock against Nunez is his defense. He had a .953 fielding percentage in 74 games at shortstop this year, and costly errors in crucial games late in the year left the Yankees no other choice but to acquire Brendan Ryan.
Still, his bat has kept him in the lineup at third base, and since changing positions his defense has drastically improved. In Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, he made an incredible stop on a ball that was smoked down the line. He made a low throw and ultimately got a two-base error, but Reynolds should have been able to handle the in-between hop at first base.
You can’t teach a player reaction time and agility – two essential tools to playing third base that Nunez possesses. You can, however, teach a player to set their feet and make a good throw. Plus, looking to next year, Mark Teixieira digs out low throws in his sleep.
Later in the inning, Nunez prevented that run from scoring with a diving play to his left. This time his throw hit Reynolds right in the chest.
I’m not sure if Ryan is coaching him defensively or if the move to third lit a candle under his behind, but either way, Nunez is stepping up his D.
His ability to hit has never been questioned. He batted .286 in August and is batting .296 in September. He hits the ball hard to all fields and has above-average speed around the bases.
Furthermore, his youth brings the potential for improvement. He’s only 26-years old. I realize the concept of developing players is foreign to the Yankees, but if they stick with Nunez he could become a solid Major League player. The hitting is there; he just needs to improve with the glove.
But the best reason to go with Nunez? He’s still on his rookie contract and isn’t eligible for arbitration until 2015. Why overpay for a free agent when Nunez only costs the Yankees a little over $500,000?
Derek Jeter is coming back next year, and they should keep Ryan as the backup shortstop. But the Yankees should also keep Nunez for insurance at the hot corner. Basically, he’s been a consistent hitter since he first came up, his defense has improved and it’ll cost the Yankees nothing to keep him.
Nunez deserves to start at third base for the Yankees next year – naturally.