Could O's homer leader be squeezed off 2021 roster?

He's been an Oriole since the team claimed him on waivers from the Texas Rangers on May 13, 2018. Renato Núñez has now played in 263 games as an Oriole, hitting 50 homers with 141 RBIs. In the last two seasons he has ranked among the top 24 in the American League in homers, and in the top 25 in RBIs each season.

That is decent run production. But now, as Trey Mancini is returning to the club for next year and Ryan Mountcastle has now made his big league debut, will Núñez get squeezed out of the lineup and maybe off the roster? He doesn't bring much defensive value, and puts his arbitration number for next year at $3.9 million if you prorate his 2020 numbers for 162 games. There are a lot of teams that would pay that for 31 homers and 90 RBIs, which he produced in 2019.

When it comes to Núñez, though, the conversation often leads to what he doesn't do well or can't really bring to the team. He's not fast, he is lacking on defense and is a very streaky hitter. When he's rolling, he can be a feared hitter. When he's not, he can chase pitches and look overmatched.

But his .816 OPS rated 21st in the AL in 2020, and his OPS plus of 121 was 21 percent above league average. In both OPS and OPS plus he ranked fourth this year on the Orioles. Jose Iglesias had a .956 OPS, Anthony Santander's was .890, Mountcastle's was .878. Then came Núñez.

Nunez-Swing-Gray-sidebar.jpgA few notes on Núñez:

* His 48 hard-hit balls (95+ mph) were the second-most on the O's, according to Statcast.

* He ranked sixth in the majors with a 42.4 percent O-Swing% (swings at pitches outside the strike zone), according to Fangraphs. So he chased more pitches, as his rate was 37.5 in 2019. Also, his strikeout rate went up from 23.9 to 29.6.

* Núñez ranked tied for 14th in the AL in homers and led the Orioles, and he was tied for 25th in RBIs.

* He batted .563 (9-for-16) with four doubles and two home runs with a 0-0 count. He batted .308 (28-for-91) in 22 Orioles wins and .212 (22-for-104) in 30 O's losses.

Signed for a bonus of $2.2 million by Oakland at age 16 out of Venezuela, Núñez was one of the top international players in his class of signings in 2010. He finally had some major league success, though, with Baltimore, his third major league team. Last season he made his second straight opening day roster.

In 151 games in 2019 he hit .244/.311/.460, and in 52 games in 2020 he batted .256/.324/.492.

Chris Davis is expected to remain an Oriole when spring training begins, and he is another player making the roster a bit crowded for players like Núñez. But Captain Obvious said that if you compare these players' production, Núñez wins in a landslide.

One can argue that, as a player claimed on waivers, Núñez has given the Orioles more than they could have expected in 2018 when they acquired him, a move that didn't exactly make big news. Not too many players claimed on waivers hit 31 home runs. But as his salary begins to go up, so do the number of players on the roster that can DH and play corner infield.

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