SEATTLE — The Red Sox finally got themselves an established third baseman. They did not, however, do anything to solve their power shortage.
Hours after highly-touted prospect Rafael Devers got his first start in the big leagues, the Red Sox obtained Eduardo Núñez from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for two minor league pitching prospects: righthanders Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos.
Nunez, 30, can play third base and shortstop and some outfield. He put together a slash line of .307/.331/.413 for the Giants and is eligible for free agency after this season. He’s making $4.2 million, meaning the Red Sox will be responsible for just over $1.4 million of that figure.
While Nunez is fringe-average defensively and is enjoying a solid year offensively, he’s offers little power, with only four homers. Last year, splitting time between Minnesota and San Francisco, he hit 16 homers though that represents the only time he’s reached double figures in the big leagues.
“He’s a very good offensive player,’’ said Dave Dombrowski of his acquisition. “He can play a lot of different positions. He’s been swinging the bat very well. He can run. He’s versatile for us. He gives us another bat that we feel can give us some offense, which we do need at this time.’’
Dombrowski wouldn’t commit to how the Sox would use Nunez, who won’t join the club until the start of the homestand Friday, though, perhaps tellingly, he was identified as a “utility player’’ in the team’s press release announcing the trade.
“We’ll kind of wait to handle that question,’’ Dombrowski said. “He’ll play a lot for us. He’s been very hot; since June 1, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball. But I think we’ll have to sit down and (determine) exactly how he’s going to be used. With the versatility he has, he can play a lot of different spots.’’
Nunez is a veteran of eight seasons in the big leagues, the first four with the New York Yankees, where he earned a reputation as a shaky fielder (20 errors in 90 games, split between shortstop and third in 2011) and a sometimes reckless baserunner.
It may well be that the right-handed hitting Nunez could be put into a platoon with Devers, a lefty with at least the potential for some pop. Nunez could also serve as a backup shortstop option, which could be considerable, given Xander Bogaerts’ penchant for wearing down over the course of a season. Bogaerts has also struggled after being struck in the right hand by a pitch right before the All-Star break and has slumped since.
But Nunez’s arrival does nothing to help boost the Red Sox’ power shortage. They are dead last in the A.L. in homers with 100, and the team’s reliance on stringing together multiple hits to score has left them as a streaky and unintimidating lineup. Dombrowski didn’t seem concerned that Nunez is far from a home run threat.
“Some of the time,’’ he said, “guys (already here) have to it themselves, from within. That’s really what it comes down to. The only way you (add more power) is if you start replacing players in your lineup and I’m not sure who you really replace, from that perspective. And it’s not only just (needing) power – sometimes, it’s just (a matter of) driving in runs, hitting balls in the gap and, lately, it’s been (failing to get) guys on base.
“It’s been a scuffle for us offensively. I don’t know that it’s power-related as much as it’s been not swinging the bats as much as we’re capable of doing, which I think we will.’’
Ironically, the trade of Nunez may open the door for the Giants to turn to another infielder at Triple A to fill the third-base job: Pablo Sandoval.
Anderson was ranked as the 12th-best righthanded pitching prospect in the Red Sox’ system by Baseball America at the start of the season. Drafted out of the University of Florida in the third round by the Sox last June, Anderson split time between two Class A affiliate – Greenville and Salem – and was a combined 6-3 with a 3.42 ERA. Santos, 17, was signed as an international free agent in 2015 and has been pitching for the organization’s affiliate in the Dominican Summer League.