The Tigers announced Wednesday that they’ve signed infielder/designated hitter
Nunez, 26, was designated for assignment by the Orioles back in late November and run through outright waivers. Baltimore would’ve owed him a raise in arbitration and clearly wasn’t keen on paying that out to a player with a rather one-dimensional skill set, and the league largely agreed based both on Nunez clearing waivers and on him settling for a non-guaranteed deal in mid-February.
It’s true that Nunez has been a generally above-average hitter over the past couple seasons, batting at a .247/.314/.469 batting line that translates to a 106 wRC+ and OPS+. Put more simply: he’s been about six percent better than a league-average hitter when adjusting for his league and his home park.
Nunez has some clear pop in his bat, with 43 home runs from 2019-20, but he rarely walks and also has a penchant for both strikeouts (25.4 percent) and infield flies (42). Since Opening Day 2019, 30.6 percent of Nunez’s plate appearances have resulted in a punchout or a pop-up. Add in a below-average 7.5 percent walk rate and questionable defense at both infield corners, and it becomes less surprising that clubs were wary about offering him a guaranteed pact.
All that said, it’s hard to fault Detroit for bringing in an above-average bat to compete for a roster spot this spring. With the Tigers, Nunez will vie for playing time at first base with Jeimer Candelario. He could also make the club as a bench bat, but with Miguel Cabrera still on the books all the way through the 2023 season at $30MM+ per year, there won’t be any DH at-bats available for Nunez anytime soon, barring another lengthy injury absence for Cabrera. And if Nunez does take a step forward, either in terms of his on-base skills or with the glove, Detroit could control him through the 2024 campaign via arbitration.