12:11 pm Jun. 22, 2012
In an exchange with columnist Joel Sherman this week, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman discussed Yankee prospect Eduardo Nunez in terms of what he isn't: an outfielder.
“I think he is a shortstop,” Cashman said of Nunez. “He can play the outfield, but he does not profile as an outfield guy. He is a free swinger and his defense would not be a plus. Put his OPS in left field and I think it would rank near the bottom.”
This frank admission was surprising, because as recently as last month, the Yankees were talking about Nunez like he could be a regular part of their outfield picture, now and in years to come.
"Absolutely, yeah, he’s gonna see more time out there," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi after Nunez made a two-run error in left field.
But Nunez has played just three games in left field, total. And the stats suggest that Cashman is far closer to the mark on Nunez than Girardi was.
Nunez has now collected 450 plate appearances over three years in the major leagues. His O.P.S.+ of 86 simply isn't adequate for a corner outfield position, and would only approach acceptable if he were capable of defending extremely well out there, like Brett Gardner. He isn't.
The problem with Nunez is that his defense is fairly awful everywhere. One of the motivations for moving him to the outfield was how poor his defense was at shortstop, his primary position through the minor leagues. And even at shortstop, an O.P.S.+ of 86 isn't really okay unless his glove is strong.
Cashman obviously knows this, which means either he believes Nunez can further develop defensively, eventually allowing him to take over for Derek Jeter whenever the Yankee captain is ready to step aside, or alternatively, that Nunez simply doesn't fir into the Yankees' plans. The latter is far more likely.
It is a sobering reminder that the Yankees really don't have anyone in line to succeed Jeter, whenever he leaves the scene. He's been very good this season, particularly early on, but at his age, the end can jump up at any time. The Yankees saw this just recently, with Mariano Rivera. But they'd put together a strong insurance plan for Rivera, between David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. No such plan exists for Jeter. Nunez is the insurance, along with veteran journeyman Jayson Nix.
Baseball America did not have Nunez in their top 10 Yankee prospects in 2012 (his playing time in 2011 had knocked him from their list) but in their projected 2015 Yankee lineup, Nunez was the one playing shortstop, a reminder that even in the levels below Triple-A, the Yankees lack an obvious successor to Jeter.
With his comments to Joel Sherman, Cashman let the world know that he recognizes this as well. For now, the plan seems to be to keep hoping Jeter defies his age. That can only work for so long, and leaves the Yankees vulnerable in 2012 if anything happens to Jeter.