The Red Sox made a big move on Monday, cutting (essentially) a player who has been a key player on their roster for the last two calendar years. Obviously, I’m referring to the team designating Eduardo Núñez for assignment on Monday. From a purely baseball perspective, as I say in the linked post, it’s hard to argue against this move. Núñez has offered the team next to nothing for the majority of the last two seasons, and in 2019 specifically he’s produced even less than that somehow. To be fair to many readers of this very site, a lot of people saw this coming. Or, maybe they didn’t see this coming but they thought it was a bad decision to bring him back. Whether you are among that group or not, the point is Núñez simply hasn’t played like a guy who deserves one of the team’s 25 roster spots nor has he shown any signs he will be any time soon. Again, from a purely baseball perspective, this was a slam dunk decision.
That being said, this roster move also does a good job of showing how conflicted it can be to be a sports fan at times. This isn’t going to be applicable to everyone, as not everyone liked Núñez for whatever reason. That said, based on my admittedly anecdotal evidence of conversations I had on the interwebs on Monday, the majority of the sentiment has been the same. Most people had thoughts somewhere along the lines of understanding the move but being said to see him go. He’s a fun guy to root for.
It really goes back to the 2017 season when he was first acquired. That year feels like forever ago at this point, and while they won the division much of that season was spent in angst at how the roster just didn’t feel good enough. In particular, the first post-David Ortiz season, the offense was lifeless for much of the season. They were probably always going to turn it around to some extent that summer, but there’s no doubt the trade that brought Núñez to town in late-July kickstarted that. He, along with Rafael Devers who had just been called up, added a life into the offense and really the roster as a whole that had been lacking that entire season. Of course, they’d go on to win the second of three consecutive division titles (and counting, technically) before losing in ALDS.
Speaking of that ALDS, Núñez was out of the series just as quickly as it began. If you’ll recall, the utility man went down with a knee injury just a few weeks prior and had just come back from the injury. In hindsight, he was clearly rushed back as his leg buckled on his first attempt out of the box in that series. He was never the same after that injury after which he had to literally be carried off the field — unsurprisingly for a guy whose value was so significantly tied to his athleticism. This is a bit of an aside, admittedly, but I’ve always found it strange that the team never got more blame for his downfall as they have with their mistreatment of other players’ injuries and playing time.
Anyway, last year is obviously the year most of us are going to remember Núñez for. It’s the year we’re going to remember most players for what with it being such a historically significant season. Núñez specifically, of course, was mostly bad in 2018. His defense was atrocious at second base and he barely hit. Despite that, he had huge, memorable moments. His pinch-hit home run in the first game of the World Series is one of the wildest, most unexpected moments in recent Red Sox history. Nathan Eovaldi deservedly gets so much spotlight from his gutty Game Three performance, but by the end of it Núñez could barely stand. He had no choice but to keep playing, and that’s exactly what he did. There’s a reason why, in almost every post-World Series presser I watched the night they won, his name came up from all of the players and coaches.
Even beyond the specific moments, though, it’s the personality that has always stuck out with Núñez and what made him so easy to root for. From his smile to his helmet constantly falling off to the infectious laugh in the dugout, it was easy to see his impact on the clubhouse that undoubtedly played a large role in keeping him around so long. Hell, on Monday Alex Cora himself mentioned the impact Núñez has had on the development on Devers and Xander Bogaerts. Obviously, those are two extremely talented players who likely blossom under any circumstance, but you can’t totally discount Cora’s sentiment here.
But, again, at the end of the day you just can’t ignore the performance. For all of the great, happy memories I and many others have from his tenure with the Red Sox Núñez was ultimately a bad baseball player. Since the start of last season he has a 67 wRC+ (meaning he’s been 33 percent worse than the league-average hitter) and by Fangraphs WAR he has been more costly to his team than all but eight position players who have worn a uniform at least once in that span.
In the end, I’m left just feeling weird and conflicted. I’ve made little secret in this post and in others over the last few years that Núñez was one of my favorite players on the team. It was impossible to argue the criticisms, but I still wanted to because it hurt seeing a personal favorite being put on blast so often. It feels like he was in town for longer than the two calendar years he spent in Boston, which is often how it goes for the fan favorites. And yet, if the Red Sox want to put their best roster on the field — and that’s something I and many others argue for when talking about spending in free agency and service time manipulation and many other areas — then they had to replace Núñez. At the end of the day he just added very, very little beyond his personality.
So, ultimately, I’m less mad and less sad than I am just sort of bummed out. I don’t begrudge the Red Sox for making the move and I certainly don’t begrudge Núñez for a lack of effort or anything close to that. Mostly, I just wished things had worked out better because a whole lot of the best times since mid-summer 2017 have involved Núñez.