SweetSpot: Eduardo Nunez

Playoff watch: Good job, Pirates!

September, 4, 2013

Some quick thoughts on the most important results and plays of the day, and a look forward to Wednesday.

Key at-bat of the day: The Pirates had surrendered a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth, but Travis Snider pinch-hit for Vin Mazzaro leading off the ninth against Brewers closer Jim Henderson and smashed a 2-2 slider 418 feet to right-center for the go-ahead home run. It was a great at-bat as Snider fell behind 1-2 and fouled off two pitches to stay alive. After five straight mid-90s four-seam fastballs, Henderson tried to sneak a slider past Snider. Didn't work.

Pitching performance of the day: The Reds' Homer Bailey pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, in a 1-0 win over the Cardinals, five days after tossing 7 1/3 scoreless against the Cards (who are now a game under .500 since the All-Star break).

Most important win: The Pirates beating the Brewers 4-3 to move to 81 wins, clinching the franchise's first .500 season since 1992. Of course, that wasn't exactly reason to pop champagne in the clubhouse, since this team has designs on something much bigger than 81 wins.

If anything, it's more a moment for the fans -- for all those who suffered through the John Russell years, the rise and fall of Oliver Perez, the blown draft picks, Operation Shutdown, Jason Kendall's horrific injury, the Aramis Ramirez trade, the collapses of 2011 and 2012, Kris Benson's wife, dumping Jose Bautista … and on and on and on. So, congrats to Clint Hurdle and the boys, but congrats to Pirates fans as well. Now, go win the division.

Oh … the game. Besides Snider's heroics, Justin Morneau went 3-for-3 with a walk and Marlon Byrd went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, so some positive returns for the August trade acquisitions. But it was Andrew McCutchen who once again jump-started the offense, scoring three runs, including his 100th career homer in the first inning. Can you say MVP?

Most important loss: The Orioles couldn't muster any offense against Ubaldo Jimenez in a 4-3 loss to the Indians. While they made it interesting with Nate McLouth's three-run homer in the ninth off Chris Perez, Perez eventually got Chris Davis to ground out (two pitches after Davis had a check-swing strike on a breaking ball that actually hit him in the leg). Combined with the Yankees' dramatic five-run eighth to the beat the White Sox 6-4, the Orioles fell behind the Yankees in the wild-card race (with Tampa Bay still holding the lead on wild-card berth No. 2).

Awards watch: Max Scherzer lost! He's now 19-2, although he remains the Cy Young favorite. Scherzer pitched well in the Tigers' 2-1 loss to the Red Sox, but Will Middlebrooks' two-run single with two outs in the sixth was the game-winning hit. It was a first-pitch slider that Scherzer left up in the zone.

Wednesday's best pitching matchup: Yu Darvish versus Jarrod Parker (Texas at Oakland, 3:35 p.m. ET). Darvish has struck out 11 or more batters in five of his past seven starts. Parker had a 2.23 ERA in six starts in August, allowing 11 runs.

Player to watch: Just recalled from the minors, Zach Britton will make the start for the Orioles, his first since July, when he allowed five runs against the Rangers and didn't strike out a batter in five innings. Britton didn't exactly mow through Triple-A at Norfolk, posting a WHIP over 1.50. His last turn was good, however, with eight K's and no walks, although over his previous three starts he had 14 walks and 14 strikeouts. Buck Showalter wants to give his starters an extra day of rest -- and also line up Chris Tillman to pitch Monday against the Yankees instead of Sunday against the White Sox -- but this seems like a bit of a gamble.

AL East: Three fixes for each team

November, 29, 2011
For all the talk of the balance of power tilting towards the AL East, baseball's power division hasn't won a pennant in two years, and has as many world titles collectively as the St. Louis Cardinals over the last six. With the eventual one-game play-in to determine each league's wild-card team, the benefits of being second-best in the division have been erased. Over the past 10 seasons, the East has provided eight wild card teams.

So the stakes just got higher in one of the most competitive divisions in the league, while the new playoff structure might eventually create lottery opportunities for the Orioles or Blue Jays to reach a division series. Sticking with the theme David Schoenfield introduced for this series Monday, what are the three top priorities for the beasts of the AL East?

New York Yankees

1. Rotation depth: Who's No. 2?

Now that CC Sabathia has opted to stick around, the questions are who gets lined up behind him in 2012? How soon until top prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances get chances to join Ivan Nova behind him? They're still stuck with A.J. Burnett for two more years, and seeing so much of the downside risk of signing him might understandably keep GM Brian Cashman from chasing C.J. Wilson. Bringing back Freddy Garcia at $5 million for another season of place-holding made sense, especially since they don't seem to know what to expect from Phil Hughes.

Likely solution: Sticking with Hughes and Burnett would be defensible in most organizations, but the need for a second stopper beyond Sabathia to put the Yankees in better postseason shape will compel them to chase a high-end vet. Don't be surprised when they ink Roy Oswalt as the best balance of short-term need, high price tag and quality.

2. Designated hitter: Open (Jorge Posada, free agent).

The job already belongs to Jesus Montero. The expectation of the offensive boost they'll get from Montero will no doubt fuel speculation that the Yankees could shop Nick Swisher in his last season before free agency. The Yankees will also add some down-on-his-luck veteran slugger to a split contract and a spring training invite to try and make the roster, not unlike Eric Chavez last February.

3. Infield depth: (Eduardo Nunez and … )

Derek Jeter will be 38 years old, and he's coming off his worst year. Alex Rodriguez hasn't managed to stay healthy and play a full season since 2007. Anticipating that he'll miss another 30-40 games in 2012 would be practical. And Nunez can't play short and third base if the Yankees are confronted with continuing decline from the Captain at the same time that A-Rod breaks down. A lefty bat to spot either starter would be handy.

Likely solution: Obvious free-agent candidates like Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto or Adam Kennedy would represent the most risk-averse solutions without providing much help at the plate. Signing Carlos Guillen would entail lots of risk, but he's played around the infield and if he was game for an incentive-laden deal, might get another shot at the postseason.

Tampa Bay Rays

1. First base: Open (Casey Kotchman, free agent)

Kotchman was less an actual incumbent and more like the temp you thank and then let loose. So the Rays are now in the position to explore their options and find something better. They won't get in on the Prince-Albert sweepstakes, but they might find Carlos Pena amenable now that he's found that the market isn't going to give him a huge long-term contract. But even that's fairly unlikely. Minor league professional hitter Russ Canzler shows up atop the depth charts for the time being after hitting .314/.401/.530 for Triple-A Durham; he could be part of a platoon if the Rays find a lefty-batting partner.

Likely solution: The Rays understand that their alternatives are fairly interchangeable, just as they were last year when they settled for Kotchman and Dan Johnson. There's always the opportunity to see if the A's would part with any of their collection of semi-interesting alternatives, because they'll have to pick from among Brandon Allen, Chris Carter and Daric Barton. A Barton/Canzler platoon would be typical of the organization's ability to make do with less.

2. Designated hitter: Open (Johnny Damon, free agent)

Damon has already expressed an interest in coming back, as well he might -- DHs who slug .418 aren't likely to be in a lot of demand, no matter how much they're seen as great clubhouse guys. Brandon Guyer's arrival in the outfield corner adds a good option to the Rays' lineup. They're not in dire need and will have the freedom to explore whatever opportunities crop up.

Likely solution: A lot like first base, there isn't a likely solution beyond the likelihood that the Rays might find a veteran willing to sign for a relatively-cheap contract in January -- like Damon did last year. It might even be Damon again. But it will be a matter of finding the man willing to take what the Rays will offer while providing a modicum of offense.

3. Catcher: Open (Kelly Shoppach, free agent; John Jaso, traded to Seattle)

Before you ask, no, signing Jose Molina for $1.5 million was not entirely the answer. But the question is whether a job-sharing arrangement between Molina and minor-league veteran Jose Lobaton will be. Lobaton is a switch-hitter with a career .259/.348/.410 line in the minors, and he's been strong-armed enough to throw people out at roughly a 30 percent clip.

Likely solution: Joe Maddon has been comfortable with cobbled-together platoons in the past, and working with this one while semi-prospect Robinson Chirinos recuperates from a broken wrist suffered in winter ball would be more of the same. But in light of recent rumors that the Rockies are shopping Chris Iannetta, it's hard not to think his blend of walks and power would make him exactly the kind of player at the right price for the Rays.

Boston Red Sox

ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes reports that the managerial search is down to Bobby Valentine and Gene Lamont, which is good news. Valentine would bring an articulate spokesman and a dugout aggression the Sox could probably use, while Lamont's merits as a tactician and his stint as a successful skipper on Chicago's South Side shouldn't be overlooked. We won't count this one, since it'll be resolved shortly.

1. Designated hitter: Empty (David Ortiz, free agent)

Papi's offense isn't the issue, the question is whether Father Time will ever catch up to the 36-year-old slugger. But after slugging .529 and .554 the last two years, he can afford to demand a multi-year deal, and the supply of people delivering that kind of power on the market is limited to four players. Ortiz will cost considerably less over a significantly shorter deal than Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Carlos Beltran.

Likely solution: Papi re-signs with the Red Sox for a multi-year deal that guarantees that his 400th career homer -- if he keeps aging gracefully, as he's at 349 now -- comes in a Boston uniform. Retaining his power will help let the Sox develop Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish in right field.

2. Closer: Empty?

If you'd asked this question in July in anticipation of Jonathan Papelbon's offseason defection as a free agent, you'd have said the job was Daniel Bard's to lose. But he may have lost it after four losses and three blown saves in September. Bobby Jenks was supposed to be some sort of insurance, but he can't be counted on between back woes and the pulmonary embolism that was diagnosed in September. So the question is whether the new brain trust wants to believe in Bard's talent, or if it would rather have an alternative.

Likely solution: The Phillies' Ryan Madson has been talked up as an obvious target, and as long as he gets paid top dollar he may be more flexible over who gets saves after a long career in setting up other people. The alternatives would be short-term deals with somebody famous (Francisco Rodriguez) to generate saves, or getting a less well-known veteran like Frank Francisco of the Blue Jays, since he'd be an asset whether he pitches in front of Bard or behind.

3. Infield: Shop depth to exploit the market's shortage of talent on the left side.

Between Jimmy Rollins' price tag, Rafael Furcal's fragility, and Aramis Ramirez's bulk, you can understand how a lot of teams feeling short at short or third will want to expand their alternatives. Between Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie and Mike Aviles the Sox have three useful players who can play third base or shortstop, and Lowrie and Aviles are both under club control for the next three years.

Likely solution: Don't be surprised if either Lowrie or Aviles gets dealt for additional relief help. For example, the Cubs' Sean Marshall's only under control for one more year, so he could certainly be available, and the Cubs could use a guy with the bat for third like Lowrie.

Toronto Blue Jays

1. Closer: Open (Francisco and Jon Rauch, free agents)

This may not be the preeminent need, but the one that GM Alex Anthopoulos will most readily address -- probably no differently than he did last winter when he trawled for short-term help and hauled in Francisco, Rauch and Octavio Dotel. This winter, he's also be losing Shawn Camp after already dealing away Jason Frasor, Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski during the season, so there are plenty of job openings in Toronto beyond the guy who will be getting the most save opportunities.

Likely solution: Another grab-bag of rented veterans who can be comfortable in the knowledge they'll have a shot at a few saves and a deadline deal to a contender.

2. Second base (Kelly Johnson, free agent)

After dealing away Aaron Hill to acquire Johnson -- and expecting that Johnson would file for free agency, yielding draft picks via an arbitration offer -- there's the very real danger that Johnson could just accept arbitration. As fascinating as Johnson is in sabermetric circles, he's had only one good year in the last three. That season was boosted by a .976 OPS in the D-backs' hitter-happy home. Johnson will be turning 30, his strikeout rate reached 26.6 percent last year, and he's not a defensive asset in the field or around the bag. One man's treasure is another man's trash, and the Jays may be stuck learning that Johnson might elicit a lot less interest than they hoped. If he stays, he could reasonably expect more than $6 million via arbitration, which wouldn't be the end of the world.

Likely solution: Johnson doesn't take arbitration, to the regret of everyone involved besides the Jays. The Jays end up having to shop around, because the market's thin. Don't be surprised if another deal with the Cardinals brings Ryan Theriot to Toronto for his last year before free agency.

3. Rotation starter

As much excitement as Ricky Romero deserves en route to ensuring his long-term commitment to the Blue Jays, the rest of the rotation leaves a lot to be desired. Brandon Morrow was talented and exasperating, and Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil both pitched badly enough to lose their jobs at different points of the season. Top prospects like Deck McGuire, Asher Wojciechowski, Drew Hutchison and Chad Jenkins aren't close to ready, and organizational survivors like Brad Mills, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch are far from sure things to round out a front five.

Likely solution: Henderson Alvarez didn't enjoy many top-prospect touts on the way up, but six quality starts in 10 turns for Toronto should get him one of the slots behind Romero, Morrow and Cecil. It will be interesting to see if the Jays keep the last spot open for Drabek or one of the organizational pitchers, or if they spring for a one-year rental with a veteran innings-eater like Aaron Harang to buy the bullpen some breathing room.

Baltimore Orioles

1. Front office.

The player development system has too often proven to be an organizational stepchild. Yappy marketing and Buck Showalter in the dugout didn't change that and couldn't; new GM Dan Duquette is charged with trying. Between faith in his Latin American contacts and his past track record with the Expos and Red Sox, the hope is that Duquette isn't merely the latest front-office time-server -- say, Syd Thrift in a different suit.

Likely solution: While other teams might be heading to the Winter Meetings looking to land big-name free agents, Duquette's best investments this winter should be the ones he makes in adding front-office help, coaches, instructors and scouts. The new CBA may have hamstrung creativity if you reduce that to dollars, but good scouting and better instruction generates its own rewards.

2. Starting pitching: 60 quality starts, fewest in MLB.

This was expected to be, if not an area of strength, or at least a unit that provided hope in the form of young talent. But Jake Arrieta hurt his elbow, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman took huge steps backward, and top pitching prospect Zach Britton put up a 5.76 ERA in 10 second-half starts. The bullpen had to absorb a ton of work from a rotation that struggled to deliver just 5.4 innings per start while allowing 5.9 runs per nine.

Likely solution: Stockpiling back-end rotation castoffs like Jo-Jo Reyes and Tommy Hunter will not be the solution; that's just hunting for the next Jeremy Guthrie and not finding him. If Duquette wants to make an immediate impact in a way that will show up in the 2012 standings, it might be to add a veteran starter who can be a positive example -- like Charlie Leibrandt did with the early-'90s Braves. While Mark Buehrle or Oswalt would be perfect as examples and as mentors, it's more likely the O's will have to settle for the likes of Joel Pineiro or perhaps a rehabbing Jason Marquis.

3. Infield: Who plays where?

Between concern over second baseman Brian Roberts' recovery from his concussion and questions over whether Mark Reynolds or Chris Davis can play third base, you might think the Orioles should be looking for help at second base and the hot corner. Maybe at first base too.

Likely solution: Take a look at the market, and you can conclude these are issues best left for spring training. Unless the Angelos clan empowers Duquette to blow the budget well past $90 million, the O's can't land a Pujols or Fielder at first base, and they shouldn't make the too-common Orioles mistake of overpaying for mediocre free agents. If Roberts can't come back, if there's one thing the system has, it's in-house alternatives at second (starting with prospect Ryan Adams), and the market for help at third base is thin enough to encourage them to be patient with Davis at the hot corner.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Excellent work by the entire crew on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast , as me, Keith Law and producer Jason Soderberg worked in perfect harmony to create a winning show ... well, it wasn't a bad show, and here are some of the reasons why!

1. A trio of right-handed American League starters threw shutouts Tuesday, but one of them stands out just a bit, and we discuss whether he's the best pitcher in the game.

2. Wait a minute: The Yankees put a critical player on the disabled list and still scored 12 runs? Impossible! Sarcasm aside (but not really), we discuss.

3. Poor Scott Kazmir's career has really taken a turn, so we reminisce about the good ol' days ... there were good ol' days, you know.

4. The Grandy Man and Joey Bats are locked in a duel for home run supremacy, and their plate approach has actually been a bit more similar than one might think.

5. Which team is more likely to pull a San Diego Padres and contend this entire season? Is it the Cleveland Indians? Let's just say SweetSpot editor/writer Dave Schoenfield -- he's co-hosting Thursday's show by the way! -- will be very interested ...

Plus: Excellent emails, more Twins and Justin Morneau talk, where MLB expansion could be headed, Dayan Viciedo's defensive prowess and really, so much more on Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast!
Since Derek Jeter became the Yankees' shortstop in 1996, they've been a better team with him in the lineup. They're 1,405-925 with him in the starting lineup and 91-69 without him. That's a .603 winning percentage versus .569, or about six wins per 162 games.

That's a very crude method to evaluate Jeter's value but another way to say this: It's 2011, and we all know Jeter is not the player he once was. He left Monday's game with a calf injury and he might miss a day or two, or he might head to the disabled list. We don't know yet.

But it doesn't really matter. Even if he's out a couple of weeks, the Yankees will be just fine. Eduardo Nunez is a capable shortstop; if anything, he has more range than Jeter. The defense might improve slightly with the younger legs in there. At the plate, Nunez is hitting just .214, but that's in just 57 at-bats and sporadic playing time. Before the season, the ZiPS systems projected Nunez as a .265/.301/.357 (BA/OBP/SLG) hitter -- a .658 OPS. Jeter's current OPS: .648.

More importantly, it means Brett Gardner will move into the leadoff spot. Gardner is the better hitter than Jeter right now, and it's not close. He has a .351 on-base percentage to Jeter's .324. He has more power (17 extra-base hits in 184 at-bats, versus Jeter's 12 in 262). Plus, he's hot right now. After a slow start, Gardner has hit .321 since May 1, including .375 in June. Getting Gardner into the leadoff spot makes the Yankees a better offensive team.

It's a shame that if Jeter is out for a period of time that it happened right as he was on the brink of his 3,000th career hit, a great milestone for a terrific player. I'm sure he wanted nothing more than to get that hit out of the way so he could focus on the rest of the season.

As for the Yankees, the biggest question isn't whether Eduardo Nunez can fill Jeter's shoes, but whether Gardner will get to keep the leadoff spot when Jeter returns.

Will Yanks replace Teixeira with shortstop?

October, 20, 2010
Talk about adding injury to insult:
    Mark Teixeira left the game in the 5th inning with an apparent hamstring injury after running out the back end of a potential double play. Multiple beat writers have now confirmed that Teixeira does have a hamstring tear, and will be replaced on the ALCS roster, probably by Eduardo Nunez. Tex will have to sit out the World Series as well if the Yankees manage to come back and make it that far, but it sounds like it’s going to be a while before the Yankees first baseman is doing much of anything anyway.

Yes, I would think.

Those of you who don't have a close personal relationship with Michael Kay or Joe Girardi might be wondering who on Earth is Eduardo Nunez. Well, he started 13 games for the Yankees this season -- 10 at third base, three at shortstop -- but spent most of the summer playing shortstop for Triple-A Scranton.

When people say Derek Jeter has to play shortstop for the Yankees (forever, maybe!) because there's nobody else who can, they're talking about Eduardo Nunez.

What's not clear is what he brings to the postseason table. He can't really hit, and the Yankees are pretty well set (for now) at both shortstop and third base. What they really need is a left-handed hitter who can hit. And as near as I can tell, the only Yankeeman who bears a passing resemblance to such a creature is Juan Miranda.

Of course, he might be anywhere right now and isn't likely to be available tomorrow. If the Yankees win Game 5, though? Miranda might come in handy against Colby Lewis in Game 6.