Look up Renato Núñez on Baseball-Reference.com and the first “position” listed next to his name is designated hitter. Says a lot more about his defensive reputation than the site.
The only glove recommended is for batting.
Edgar Martinez made it into the Hall of Fame as a DH, but Núñez just wants to stay in the majors and get his at-bats. The lineup today would include him in the role, with the infield corners reserved for someone else.
If manager Brandon Hyde could craft the ideal scenario, he’d be able to trust Núñez at third base as an alternative to the left-handed hitting Rio Ruiz and allow Hanser Alberto to get most of the starts at second base with Jonathan Villar no longer on the team.
Playing the hot corner also would expand the options at DH, whether it’s sliding Chris Davis into the role while putting Trey Mancini at first base or inserting Ryan Mountcastle after he’s deemed ready for the majors.
A promotion figures to be put on hold until later in the summer.
The defense has to get better, the slippage an ugly contrast to the years when multiple players were nominated for Gold Gloves. Richie Martin stuck as a Rule 5 pick because the Orioles viewed him as an upgrade at shortstop, no matter how the metrics read. They want Austin Hays patrolling center field.
Núñez registered a minus-0.9 Defensive Wins Above Replacement in 2019, when Hyde gave him 21 starts at first base and eight at third. He also played an inning in left field because, why not?
Davis’ ongoing struggles at the plate leave Hyde searching for alternatives at first, and Núñez remains an option as long as he’s hitting 30-plus home runs. But this organization is deep in first base/corner outfield types. An embarrassment of riches. Or more like restrictions.
The Orioles could set up a tent in the parking lot and offer them at discount prices. Free delivery, too.
Third base coach José Flores also serves as infield instructor, the job formerly held by Bobby Dickerson, who’s regarded as one of the best in the industry. Flores will keep working with Núñez on footwork, gathering the ball and accuracy on throws. Arm strength isn’t a concern.
A biceps injury limited Núñez’s reps in the field in spring training. He’s going to get plenty of work this year.
There’s an opportunity for Núñez if he can hold onto it.
The position is unsettled, with the assumption that Ruiz makes the team and at least shares it as part of a platoon. How Alberto fits in the equation depends on how the Orioles replace Villar. They’re going to sign a veteran middle infielder, though he could be the primary shortstop.