The Braves’ depth chart is looking a bit thin at third base these days: Johan Camargo had an intriguing 2017 and just today, received a compelling 50 FV rating and a spot on Fangraphs’ “top graduated prospects” list but does not necessarily project as a regular; Rio Ruiz has held his own with the bat in the minors but has suffered some frightening launch angle difficulties against MLB pitching; Charlie Culberson has hit really, really poorly. Yes, Austin Riley just tore up the Arizona Fall League and may be on the way, but in the interim, the Braves may be exploring additional options for third base.
Todd Frazier is off the table, having signed with the Mets, but that doesn’t mean there are no free agent options available. Queue the lukewarm offseason stove:
Source: Add the Braves to the list of teams that have expressed serious interest in infielder Eduardo Nunez. The Yankees, Rays and Red Sox are also in the mix. The Mets were in play until they signed Todd Frazier.— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) February 8, 2018
Nunez is a bit of an interesting player, having served a roster fringe role for his first few seasons with the Yankees and Twins, until making some strides with the bat in his age-28 season (2015). Since then, he’s played at a much better pace (2.7 fWAR per 600 plate appearances). He’s been traded midseason in each of the last two years, and finished his 2017 season batting a punchy .313/.341/.460 (112 wRC+) between the Giants and Red Sox. He actually finished the season on a tear after being traded, socking eight homers in 38 games and putting up a 133 wRC+ in his last 173 PAs.
Of course, as we all know, expressing “serious interest” doesn’t mean too much, especially with so many other teams in the running that have deeper pockets to draw on. In addition, Nunez may be a bit of a strange fit for a Braves team whose new general manager has made statements to the effect of emphasizing defense: he rates very poorly in infield defensive metrics, with only his DRS at third base being non-awful among UZR and DRS across second, third, and shortstop. Nunez also has some experience playing left and right field, which might be interesting if he does end up signing with the Braves, given that the team’s other roster deficiency at the moment is the corner outfield spot that won’t be filled by phenom Ronald Acuña. (He doesn’t really have enough experience, however, to opine in an informed fashion about his aptitude in the outfield.)
Something else to consider on the Nunez front are Jon Heyman’s latest notes. Heyman writes:
The Braves would sign a third baseman if they can get one on a one-year deal. They believe prospect Austin Riley could be ready by the end of the season. If they don’t sign one, they say they will be comfortable with Johan Camargo at third.
While Nunez was projected by most to get a multiyear deal (MLB Trade Rumors had him at $14 million over two years), he could be a fit for the Braves if his market drops to an array of single-year deals. The Red Sox have a relatively stacked lineup, but Nunez could find a lot of playing time with the Yankees and Rays, so a Braves offer probably wouldn’t be competitive on a chance to stick in the lineup alone.
Steamer projects Nunez to put up another average season (2.1 fWAR/600) next year; ZiPS concurs at a 2.2 fWAR/600 figure. Along with Nunez, Mike Moustakas and Yunel Escobar are the most notable free agent options for third base remaining.