Teams usually are comfortable with waiting a few weeks into the regular season before making substantial roster moves, but the Twins appear to be on the verge of bringing in a new shortstop.
So don’t look at the Twins’ deal on Monday for Eduardo Nunez as an innocuous one. They have every intention of summoning him to the majors as soon as he gets his timing down at Class AAA Rochester. The Twins acquired Nunez, 26, from the Yankees on Monday in exchange for lefthander Miguel Sulbaran, who was in the Class A Cedar Rapids starting rotation. Nunez is a player the Twins have asked the Yankees about in the past, and they finally got him.
Asked about Nunez on Monday following the Twins’ 8-3 loss to Oakland, manager Ron Gardenhire said, “We plan on him being a part of it.’’
While Pedro Florimon is capable of filling up a highlight reel with his fine glove work, this deal is an indictment of his hitting. Florimon batted .221 last season in 127 games. He was slowed by appendicitis at the beginning of camp and was limited to 10 spring training games, in which he batted .185. Still, the Twins brought him north to start the regular season, and Florimon is 2-for-20 with two walks and seven strikeouts in 10 games.
Florimon has plenty of speed, but you never would know it because he doesn’t get on base enough to put it in play consistently. And his high strikeout rate has been a concern. If Florimon could hit .240, he would steal 20-25 bases and this move would not have been made.
“Florimon has done everything we’ve asked of him,’’ Gardenhire said. “Offensively, he’s got to bang the ball around.’’
It’s not as if Nunez is a hitting star, but he once was considered to be the heir apparent to Derek Jeter. Nunez is a career .267 hitter with a .307 on-base percentage and .372 slugging percentage. His career WAR (wins above replacement, which determines a player’s overall value) is minus-1.8 compared with 2.6 for Florimon. Nunez has a career range factor at short of 3.66, compared with Florimon’s 5.12.
But the Twins are convinced that what Nunez can do with the bat is worth what they might lose in defense. That can be a risky stance but, despite coming off a road trip in which they scored 38 runs in six games, the Twins know they need functional hitters up and down the lineup. And Florimon has been a speed bump.
“We like the way he swings the bat,’’ Gardenhire said of Nunez. “He can run. He can play shortstop.’’
It’s surprising to see the Twins positioning themselves to make a change one week into the regular season. They waited until May 22 to take Vance Worley out of last year’s starting rotation. This suggests they were looking around for shortstops late in camp. And it’s also surprising they didn’t choose some other options. They could give Eduardo Escobar a chance to claim the position. They could summon Danny Santana from Class AAA Rochester, but bypassing him is understandable for now because he needs to smooth out some defensive rough edges. If anything, Nunez could be a temporary fix until they feel Santana is ready.
“He was mostly a platoon guy when he came up, and it’s tough sometimes when you’re a good prospect, everyone talks about you, and then you come up and play once or twice a week, when Derek Jeter isn’t playing,’’ said Twins righthander Phil Hughes, who played with Nunez with the Yankees. “He would have a problem sometimes with his fielding, he’d make an error, and in New York, it means Derek Jeter’s not playing that day and if you make an error, you hear about it. It can wear on you. He’s a guy who can hit, he hits mistakes. He can make a great play now and then, too.
“I thought he had a lot of talent, a lot of skill. It was just a matter of putting it together, and like a lot of guys, getting to play every day.’’
Teams are willing to sacrifice hitting for a good glove at shortstop, but the Twins apparently decided they can go only so far with that. So unless Florimon suddenly turns into Alan Trammell at the plate, it looks as if there will be a change at one of the vital defensive positions.