There was a time, and it really was not that long ago, when Eduardo Nunez was a punch line. There was also a time before that, when he was an Actual Prospect™. Here we are again, years later, and he’s no longer a punch line, and he’s once again playing in the American League East—just this time, it’s for the Boston Red Sox.
In 2010, Eduardo Nunez was no longer supposed to be a Yankee. In July of that year, the Yankees were solidifying a deal for ace Cliff Lee, a deal that would have sent Jesus Montero, David Adams, and either Ivan Nova or Nunez to the Mariners. When Adams’ medicals held up the deal, Brian Cashman ultimately walked away in order to avoid trading a future starting pitcher or future shortstop and one of the best prospects in the game.
It made some sense, and I suppose it’s been vindicated by the fact Nunez is still in baseball (and Montero is not). I still probably would have done that deal, mostly because Nunez’s resurgence never came in pinstripes. While he played in the Bronx, he was the Cliff Lee trade footnote who couldn’t live up to the name.
From 2010 to 2013, he was the fifth-worst shortstop in baseball by fWAR (-1.8). Only Brandon Wood (not in baseball), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (no longer in baseball), Adeiny Hechavarria (decent, depending on your perspective), and Yuniesky Betancourt (no longer in baseball) were worse in that span.
He was then shipped to Minnesota in 2014 for Miguel Sulbaran, and Nunez had one replacement level year before actually breaking out. If we start with 2015 to the present, his fWAR (5.7) ranks 13th among shortstop; essentially, he’s been about as valuable as Elvis Andrus or Troy Tulowitzki in that time. It’s bizarre, and after being sent to San Francisco for Adalberto Mejia, he was sent back to the AL East Red Sox for Shaun Anderson and Gregory Santos on July 26th.
The grand irony of all of this is that he has always, and will continue to, beleaguer the Yankees in perpetuity. He hurt the Yankees because they decided not to trade him for Lee. He hurt the Yankees by not living up to his billing as an everyday shortstop, in fact performing as one of the worst shortstops in the game. Now, he’s going to hurt the Yankees as a competent infielder on a direct competitor.
Already, his performance for the Red Sox is not to be believed. He’s hitting .481/.517/.852 with 0.85 Win Probability Added in just six games, and the organization is taking notice: manager John Farrell said he’d “be crazy” not to have him in the lineup with Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list.
I’ll never be able to get over it. “Nuney,” the punch line that kept on giving, has now turned into a legitimate foe who will probably play a big role in the division race, as the Yankees sit just mere games behind the Red Sox.
I don’t know how long he remains this good, but I can say he’s no longer the player he once was. We know nothing about this dumb game of baseball, and it’s an important point to remember. The worst players imaginable can turn it around in an instant, and our heroes can fade overnight. Everything in baseball is ephemeral, but the legend of Nunez is eternal.