Well Renato Nuñez, we barely knew ye. The Detroit Tigers announced on Wednesday that they had selected the contract of infielder Zack Short from Triple-A Toledo. To open the roster spot, they designated Nuñez for assignment.
Short was acquired in a deal with the Chicago Cubs for Cameron Maybin last year. He’s a good shortstop who can play any position on the infield well, but isn’t thought to have the power to stick as a regular. Of course, the Tigers don’t have many regulars, so we may see quite a bit of him anyway. Short seems capable of putting together tough at-bats and generally being a scrappy pest to opposing teams, while playing very good defense. As such, he’s a manager’s dream Swiss Army knife.
Why the Tigers are carrying three utility infielders, while ditching one of the team’s only potential sources of power is another question entirely.
Maybe it’s just us, but the whole Nuñez saga has been rather strange to observe. The Baltimore Orioles released him back in November to avoid paying him arbitration rates after they couldn’t find a trade partner. Nuñez didn’t get bites in free agency, and he was still waiting in early February when the Tigers offered him a minor league deal. He was obviously not a player other teams valued much, yet without a bona fide first baseman other than some part-time work by Miguel Cabrera, the addition made sense to see if the 27-year-old could improve on the consistent league average or better production he’d provided the Orioles offense over the past three seasons.
Nuñez had some difficulties with his visa and the COVID intake protocols, and wasn’t actually cleared for action until March 10. So the Tigers worked with him for about two weeks before talking him into accepting an assignment to Toledo to begin the season. Nuñez was a third baseman by trade, but with the Orioles he didn’t see the field that much. However, he did have 49 starts at first base and it was easy to think the Tigers were grooming him to play first base more regularly and simply wanted him to put in more time working on his defense. Instead he seems simply to have not been much of a priority, either to the front office, A.J. Hinch, or both.
The Tigers recalled him on April 11 to take Cabrera’s place when the veteran slugger hit the injured list with a biceps strain. Nuñez promptly hit home runs in two of his first three games. Yet here we are only a week later and he’s been designated for a third utility infielder. It’s certainly true that he’s a very limited player who isn’t going to do much more than give you some power in your lineup, but considering the Tigers’ lineup that seems not an insignificant thing. More to the point, it’s hard to know what Hinch or the front office saw in that limited amount of time that changed their minds about his value. Nuñez is what he is, and so it’s a bit confusing as to what was expected to change with only a relatively brief look with the club. Perhaps Nuñez will end up back in Toledo after clearing waivers again, but the opportunity he was anticipating doesn’t really seem to be in the cards now.
The real lynchpin of the decision may actually be Willi Castro. After a few years of hoping things would work out defensively at shortstop, the Tigers started Castro at second base in game one of Wednesday’s doubleheader. Niko Goodrum, a much better defensive shortstop, got the start at the position, but may well share time with Short, who is also well regarded at the position.
Perhaps Willi Castro’s time at shortstop hasn’t fully come to an end, but the fact that they added Short to the mix may say otherwise. Or maybe carrying three light-hitting utilitymen is just a sign of where this roster is after another quiet offseason. As the third of the Tigers utilitymen, Harold Castro, doesn’t really play the position well, we’re not sure if this says anything about his long term prognosis with the club either, but Hinch seems to value him more than a player like Nuñez as well.
For now, it looks like Jonathan Schoop is going to be the club’s first baseman on most days. However, with Miguel Cabrera, and eventually Nomar Mazara coming back, the club will have some more shuffling to do pretty soon.
As for Wednesday’s night’s second game of the doubleheader, the Tigers have optioned Joe Jiménez to the alternate training site in Toledo and activated Spencer Turnbull to start the game. Centerfielder extraordinaire Derek Hill will be the club’s 27th man for the nightcap.