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Why did the Giants trade for Eduardo Nunez, and where is he going to play?

The Eduardo Nunez trade seems a little curious on the surface, so let's attempt to unpack it.

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Eduardo Nunez wasn’t very good before last season, there are serious questions about his defense, and he’s in the middle of a vile slump. Another infielder was about fourth or fifth on the Giants’ priority list, yet they still gave up one of their top pitching prospects to get him.

Slept on it. Don’t like it.

The Giants are likely better than they were yesterday, though, and they’ll have more flexibility next year than they otherwise would have, though. Because Nunez’s arbitration started when he was an eminently forgettable utility infielder instead of one with valuable offensive skills, he’ll be quite inexpensive, even in his final year of arbitration. That’s a good thing! The only way I would be livid is if the deal made it harder for the Giants to acquire a reliever or starter.

Or if Adalberto Mejia turns out to be really, really good. But I can’t think of a trade with the Twins that’s gone against the Giants, so we probably shouldn’t worry about that part.

My biggest problem with the deal is that the Giants are going to need starting pitching soon, and this is the worst market for starting pitching I’ve ever seen. The Marlins just gave up two of their best prospects for Andrew Cashner, who isn’t very good at pitching. That means the Giants should do their absolute best to hang on to anyone who can fill that void for them within the next two years. Mejia was one of their only pitchers who fits that description.

Which isn’t to say Mejia should have been untouchable. Just that if you’re going to trade an advanced starting pitcher right now, you should aim higher than "depth."

Fine, fine, Nunez is here, and we all know the Giants can’t win a World Series without shopping at the infielder store first, so here’s hoping he swipes a bunch of bags and hits a bunch of doubles. It’s also a pretty good time to ask where he’ll play and just how often.

Start with the obvious: He’s a right-handed hitter, but that shouldn’t make a difference. Matt Duffy has been a tick better against right-handers over his career, and neither Brandon Crawford or Joe Panik have noticeable platoon splits. So it’s not as simple as putting Nunez in the lineup against left-handers. Maybe if we’re talking Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale, it would make sense to use that day as an opportunity to rest Crawford, but not against most left-handers.

On the other hand, Duffy and Panik are both coming off injuries. Panik’s was to the head, but he also had serious back problems last year. Duffy was something of an iron man last year, but his Achilles tear this year is worrisome. At the very least, you don’t want to welcome him back and play him in every single game for the rest of the season. That kind of grind would be far too risky.

So in that sense, Nunez makes a ton of sense. You don’t have to be worried about Duffy missing the season or having complications to understand why another capable infielder would fit. So my guess would be this:

  • Two starts a week at third, allowing Duffy plenty of rest
  • One start a week at second, allowing Panik plenty of rest
  • A start every other week at short, allowing Crawford a little rest

That’s, again, just a guess, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t mean the Giants are flat benching Duffy, who is a defensive asset even when he isn’t hitting, and a young, All-Star caliber player who looks like a part of the long-term foundation when he is hitting. You don’t bury the potential for a short-term player, especially when defense might make up the difference, even in a slump.

Pretty sure that you wouldn’t see that same starting pattern with Ramiro Pena as the only backup infielder. You would get spot starts, sure, but it’s hard to imagine Bruce Bochy feeling comfortable with him getting three or four starts per week. The returns on the extra rest would be hard to quantify, but the offensive and defensive difference between Pena and Panik or Duffy would be obvious in every game. This is a way to get the hard to quantify benefits without losing a lot in the lineup.

It makes sense. I still would have held on to the starting pitcher, if only because the Giants will have rotation slots to fill next year, but resting Panik and Duffy regularly might be more important to the Giants’ success than we thought. Keeping them healthy is important, but so is enjoying what they offer to a lineup. Nunez is a player who helps with both.

Slept on it. Almost okay with it.

Of course, that’s the ideal usage, and it could all change if Duffy falls back into the slump ditch. Nunez would get the bulk of the at-bats then, I’d guess, with Duffy filling that half-on/half-off role we’re predicting for Nunez.

It’s not the most exciting move, but I don’t think the Giants can afford to sit at the exciting-move table. Instead, they got a little better at a potentially substantial cost. That’s how it goes for contenders in a seller’s market.

At least they didn’t trade their entire system for Andrew Cashner. I mean, goodness.