While Drew loses tag, Yankees DFA Nunez
Tuesday was a big day for free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. With the regular season officially underway for nearly every Major League team, Drew no longer has to worry about being saddled with draft pick compensation if he hits the free-agent market next winter. That means a one-year deal is now a welcome option for him, though it still will cost the Tigers their first-round draft pick (23rd overall) to sign him anytime before this year’s draft begins June 6.
Tuesday was also a big day on the shortstop market through the waiver wire, where former Yankees shortstop-in-waiting Eduardo Nunez is about to land. The Bronx Bombers designated him for assignment Tuesday to make room for Yangervis Solarte on the roster.
MLB.com’s Yankees reporter, Bryan Hoch, has a good breakdown of Nunez’s situation on his blog, including Yankees GM Brian Cashman using the words “fresh start” in his explanation.
“We’re allotted 10 days to make an assignment of his contract,” Cashman told the Yankees beat writers, “so stay tuned.”
That sounds very much like Nunez is about to be on the move.
There was a time when the 26-year-old Nunez was seen as the logical successor to Derek Jeter. He started 69 games at shortstop last season with Jeter out, though a strained rib cage cost him two months as well. That said, there’s a reason why the Yankees are going with Solarte and parting ways with Nunez. His defense was disappointing when he started, including limited range and an erratic arm, and his OPS dropped to a career-low .679. The fact that the Yankees were supposedly looking for infield help on the trade market early this spring says something about where Nunez had fallen on the depth chart.
The advantage Nunez has over Alex Gonzalez, obviously, is age. For all the questions about his game, whether he can hold up over the course of a season shouldn’t be one of them.
Like Gonzalez, Nunez bats right-handed, so it’s hard to see the Tigers keeping both and platooning them. Thus, if the Tigers were to take a shot on Nunez, they’d have to believe he can step in right away and be a regular shortstop. In addition, Nunez would have to pass through most of the American League on waivers before the Tigers would be able to make a claim. So if Detroit wants him, it might have to work out a trade for him.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: Does Eduardo Nunez provide any more certainty at shortstop over the course of a season than Alex Gonzalez? And if it’s close, is it worth swinging a deal for him and giving up parts for the latest fix at short, especially if more errors and wayward throws could lead the Tigers back to Drew?
Speaking of Drew, there’s no sign yet that anything’s moving on that front. While Drew couldn’t sign anywhere before today if he wanted to shed the draft-pick drag next winter, that doesn’t mean teams weren’t able to negotiate with him ahead of today. And if the Tigers had any thought of adding Drew on the second day of the season, I doubt they would have brought in Alex Gonzalez and given up Steve Lombardozzi eight days ago. Thus, the waiting game continues.
Could the Tigers wait until June, see how Gonzalez holds up and then revisit Drew, with no draft pick required at that point? It’s possible, but there’s no guarantee he’ll linger on the market for two more months; the latest injury to Jose Reyes in Toronto shows how unforeseen needs can pop up elsewhere. More importantly, two months encompass a lot of games, and you can’t expect Drew to be ready immediately after signing. Even if he’s in game shape, he’d need his timing at the plate.
In summary: If you thought the Tigers closer watch was a long-running, painful saga last year around this time, this could conceivably go on longer, even if the Tigers made a play for Nunez. Gonzalez, for all his heroics Monday, still needs to play better — mainly in the field — if he’s going to grab the role and slow the speculation.