USA Today Sports

Red Sox report: Dissecting the Eduardo Nunez signing

Rob Bradford
February 18, 2018 - 5:41 pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Eduardo Nunez sauntered into JetBlue Park officially a member of the Red Sox at just about 11:30 a.m. Sunday. A few months ago, such a sight wouldn't have seemed possible. But there he was.

"I told my agent before I was a free agent, I would love to come back," Nunez said. "The time I was here last year was amazing. There was a lot of energy and I love to win. I think that’s the best thing, my first choice by far. The situation was about my knee, they wanted to make sure I’m healthy. I think I proved it this week and now I’m back."

One year for $4 million, plus a player option. There it was. The guy who was coming off a career year and proved to be one of the key elements in the Red Sox' run to the postseason (.321 batting average, .892 OPS in 38 games) was back on a bargain basement deal.

So, why is he back, and what does it mean? Here are some answers:

- According to sources, Nunez's camp was originally asking for a five-year deal out of the gate in spring training. That was most likely simply November posturing, but it does suggest the 30-year-old was expecting something in the range of three or four years. MLB Trade Rumors projected Nunez to receive a two-year deal at $14 million.

Assuming that Nunez's knee is as capable as the Red Sox are suggesting it is, this should be a bargain. Even if he takes a slight step back defensively, his ability to capably play multiple positions while offering a legitimate offensive spark is something that can be a difference-maker on any roster.

There was always interest, but when the price fell to this level, a return became very real.

"Really we started pursuing him last year before we were sure what Dustin [Pedroia's> health situation was. He’s just a good fit," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "Now it’s even better. Again I’m not sure when Dustin is going to be ready to play but it’s a situation where his versatility and ability to play different positions brings so much to us from an offensive perspective. When you look at our record last year when he played with us, it was very good (23-15). And it was a much better club even though he’s not a power hitter. We scored a lot more runs when he was in the lineup. He brought a lot to the table for us. He’s a good energy player. He’s good in the clubhouse. He just fits our club really well. It really wasn’t tied to that very much. Pedey, if you told me today, I knew Pedey was going to be ready to go on Opening Day, we still would’ve pursued Nunez to the same extent."

- Despite Dombrowski's proclamation, Nunez's fit isn't a turn-key one.

In the short-term, he could certainly be considered the favorite to fill in for Pedroia while the second baseman comes back from knee surgery. After that, you're talking about somebody who is going to be filling in all over the diamond, including the outfield.

"It’ll help us move people around," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "Especially with him we move him around, we know how good he is and he can help others get some rest. Instead of having nine starters we have 10." Cora added, "This guy brings more than the second, third, short defensive situation."

- Dombrowski was pretty non-committal when it came to how the Nunez signing might impact the continued pursuit of J.D. Martinez. When asked about if it might alter the approach toward reeling in other free agents, the chief decision-maker would only say, "Other free agents perhaps. Not all free agents. But other free agents sure." OK, how about a higher-priced guy like Martinez? "I really wouldn't want to get into it."

As long as the Red Sox stay within the targeted landing spot of around $20 million annual average value for a Martinez contract, the modest Nunez numbers shouldn't deter the Red Sox from chasing the slugger. It would still keep the payroll under the $237 million, which is the threshold that the Red Sox don't want to go over for fear of financial penalties and dropping 10 spots in the draft. (For more on Nunez's contract and how it impacts the payroll, read Alex Speier's column by clicking here.)

And while a Martinez signing would basically eliminate the option of rotating Nunez into the DH spot on a regular basis, there still figures to be enough opportunities to get at-bats as the early-season schedule unfolds. Think Brock Holt's lot in life when healthy over the past few years.

- Then there the knee.

The Red Sox evidently weren't going to take any chances with this one, putting Nunez through a fairly extensive workout at JetBlue Park prior to fully committing to the deal.

"We had conversations right after the season but it wasn't like we were in the position to do anything because we needed to make sure of assurance of health and that surgery wasn't needed," Dombrowski said. "And it was a long process because we stayed in contact. I think we went down there and worked him out in December but it wasn't quite 100 percent at that time. We went again in January, continued to make progress but still wasn't 100 percent. He told us he felt 100 percent. We had seen, some of our people had stayed in contact with him and had that type of feedback, but even though we technically agreed to a contract whatever day it was. Down here you lose track of the days because they are all pretty nice, beautiful 85 degrees days are the same.

"But the other day when we agreed to the terms he knew it was predicated upon passing not only a physical but a complete workout. So when I think back now the days come to me. I think we officially agreed sometime like last Tuesday. He felt that he'd be ready to come in on Thursday. He had his physical on Friday morning and we put him in a very thorough workout on the back field. Before that he went into the training room. They did all the test with him. They measured his legs, the differences in his legs, his right versus his left. Did hopping on one foot. With that type of injury it's very important to handle that if it's healed properly. He did that. He did some stretching exercises. Then he went on the back field and took ground balls at short. Took ground balls at second bending down. He hit live. He ran the bases. He slid and dove back to bases and felt great. Had no pain. Came back then the next day, which was yesterday to make sure that there was no swelling and no pain and there was none. So we feel comfortable that he's 100 percent ready to go and we're absolutely thrilled that he's with us because he's a good player."

The thoroughness of the workout wasn't lost on Nunez.

"They almost killed me," he noted. "They gave me a lot of stealing bases, running, hitting, groundballs, diving, everything, and I passed it."

As long as the knee is OK, this would seem to be a no-lose type of move for the Red Sox. Good bat. Great clubhouse guy. Low price. Now we just have to wait to see exactly how the piece is going to fit what is a still incomplete puzzle.