Figuring out which young players around baseball have options on them can be a challenge, but Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors made the process much easier. Dierkes tracked down reliable sources for 30 MLB teams to determine who no longer had options remaining, and it turns out that from the Yankees only Ivan Nova and Francisco Cervelli are out of options. Since Nunez came up to the big leagues the same year as Nova in 2010, it was unclear whether or not Nunez had exhausted all of his options or not.
Fortunately, the Yankees still apparently have an option left on their beleaguered infielder, probably because he spent all of the 2011 and 2013 campaigns at the big league level with the exception of rehab stints. If they do not want to cut ties with him completely, then the option is thus a way to keep him in the organization while also trying a new backup infielder. To put it lightly, we have not been shy about our displeasure with Nunez, as readers around here likely know. Nunez has spent four seasons in the pros and for all the hype about his bat, he has simply not hit well enough at all to make up for his well-documented deficiencies in the field.
Overall, Nunez has hit .267/.313/.379 with an 86 wRC+, and last year, he hit almost exactly those numbers but a hair lower: .260/.307/.372, 83 wRC+. For all the talk about how he was supposed to be good against lefthanded pitching, he only hit .225/.279/.373 with a 75 wRC+ against them in 2013. If the Yankees don't trust lefty third baseman Kelly Johnson against lefty pitching, they clearly need to find a better platoon partner. Hell, they might not even need a platoon since Johnson batted a decent.291/.337/.349 with a 95 wRC+ against them in 2013, roughly league average for an infielder, and he has hit .276/.336/.434 with a 105 wRC+ against them for his career.
It's a struggle to determine in what way, shape, or form Nunez could actually help the Yankees' bench in 2014. The Yankees have tried to use Nunez as a legitimate bench option at numerous different times for four years in a row now without success. When the Yankees lost Derek Jeter for the majority of the season last year, it was Nunez's opportunity to demonstrate that he could pass as a bench option. Instead, he only played 90 games due to his own injuries, hit worse than the horribly-declining Rickie Weeks, finished among the 10 worst players in baseball by fWAR with at least 300 PA, and looked worse than ever in the field, where his once-decent range vanished. Veteran Brian Roberts is incredibly fragile at second base--what happens if/when he goes down due to injury? If Nunez is the backup, then it's likely that he would become the starter at either second or third base (with Johnson moving to his natural second). A player who struggled as badly as Nunez did in 2013 and for the rest of his career really has no business starting just because his swing occasionally looks nice. Nunez just doesn't bring anything to the bench, and the status quo just won't cut it in terms of infield depth.
Therefore, the Yankees should either DFA Nunez or exercise that last option they have on him to send him down for the start of the season. They need someone fresh with at least a little hope on their bench. The current alternatives to Nunez aren't extremely exciting, but they are worth exploring since the current plan has proved to be folly every year since 2010. There's the recovering Scott Sizemore, who missed most of the last two seasons with a torn ACL, but is not 30 and hit .245/.342/.399 with 1.6 fWAR in 2011 for the Tigers and Athletics. There's Dean Anna, who might be a 27-year-old career minor leaguer with Pacific Coast League-inflated numbers, but who is also already on the 40-man roster, displays nice plate discipline, and was a solid defender at second last year in Triple-A. There's also 27-year-old Yangervis Solarte, who has looked great in spring training thus far despite a couple disappointing years in the Rangers' organization. It would be a pleasant surprise to receive decent bench production out of any of these three alternatives, but they all at least provide a little more hope than Nunez.
The cliched quote about history is that those who don't learn from it are doomed to repeat it, but it certainly applies in this case. The history has proven that gambling on Nunez for a fifth straight year is unlikely to produce good results. Since the Yankees have a way to keep Nunez on the 40-man roster without losing him entirely as they seem to be afraid to, they should take advantage of this extra option. Even the easiest tactic of simply turning to Anna since he wouldn't require an extra move to bump him to the 40-man roster would be an acceptable attempt at improvement. The Yankees have utilized roster flexibility in the past to improve the team, and this is just one more way to do so and improve the team.