I wrote in today’s paper about Eduardo Nunez, by far the most surprising and most successful member of the Twins this season, a player having a career year on a team that is in the midst of a historic flop. In gathering information for the story, I asked Nunez about the possibility of representing the Twins at the All-Star Game next month in San Diego, something that Patrick Reusse heartily endorsed in a Star Tribune column last week.
Since Patrick had already written about it, I left that topic out of my story. But his answer was interesting, so it’s a good blog topic to accompany the in-print story.
“Everybody always dreams, everybody talks about the All-Star Game. It’s the dream for any young player,” Nunez said. “To be a player and perform like that — it would change your life. Change your career. People would see you differently. They would see you [deserve] an opportunity.”
As I noted in the story, opportunity was a recurring theme for Nunez, who believes he would have established this level of play — he’s among the league leaders in hitting this season, and in the top 10 in stolen bases as well — far earlier in his career, had he been given a chance. But the Yankees played him behind Derek Jeter — good luck taking away playing time from a Hall of Famer — then gave up when both his offense and defense came up short.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise” that his play has risen with his playing time, Nunez said. “You sit behind Jeter, sometimes you can hit a homer, go 2-for-4, and the next day, you’re back on the bench for like a week. In Minnesota, now when I have 2-for-4, I’m in the lineup. So I’m not surprised at all.”
That’s about as far as Nunez will go in expressing frustration over his career path, over being labeled “utility” when he wanted to be “starter.” He even claims not to be disturbed by the variance in salary that his role has relegated him to. He and Eduardo Escobar are roughly the same age and with almost identical experience in the major leagues. Both are arbitration-eligible. But Escobar could compare himself to starters, while Nunez cannot, and their salaries for this season reflect it: Nunez earns $1,475,000, while Escobar gets $2,100,000.
“I wish I could be an agent. I don’t have the numbers in my mind. I don’t even know how that works,” Nunez said. “I just do my job. I don’t know about the money, all I know is hitting and playing ball.”
Still, he made it clear that he wants to be a starter, too.
“In 2014, I talked to [Paul Molitor and told him], I wish one day to be an everyday player. And he always had that in mind,” Nunez said. “If somebody gets hurt, if he needs something, I want to be there, and he knows. Yeah, I worked all the time, all my life, for this opportunity.”
And he never complained about his situation, knowing that “when you do that, people say you’re a bad teammate.”
He’s made sure he’s not, even though he would like to take playing time away from Trevor Plouffe, or Brian Dozier, or especially Escobar. “Those are my friends, and I wish the best for them. I hope they wish the same for me,” he said. “But at the same time, [this is a] competition. … The best player at the time will play, and hopefully they understand that.”