In the next few weeks, the Orioles will need to make a decision about Renato Núñez.
The 26-year-old Núñez is eligible for arbitration for the first time. Although he has hit with power, several factors are not in his favor.
According to MLBTradeRumors, Núñez could make $2.1 million based on his 60-game statistics in 2020 or $3.9 million if they are extrapolated to a 162-game season. In 2020, Núñez had 12 home runs, 31 RBIs and a .256 batting average with an .816 OPS.
His 2019 stats were 31 homers, 90 RBIs, a .244 average and a .771 OPS.
In his 2 ½ season with the Orioles, Núñez has struck out more than three times more often than he has walked (257 to 77), and his defensive metrics are below average.
In 2020, Núñez started more games at first base (28) than he did at designated hitter (19). Núñez struggled at third base in 2018 (seven errors in 59 games).
With Trey Mancini coming back in 2021, he’ll likely be the first baseman. Ryan Mountcastle played there late in 2020, and there’s still the unfinished business involving Chris Davis.
The Orioles have Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and perhaps DJ Stewart as possible outfielders next season, and one of them could be the DH when not in the outfield.
Even though Núñez’s offensive stats aren’t bad, the Orioles may not want to commit money to a DH when they have other, more versatile options.
There aren’t many full-time designated hitters. Nelson Cruz, who continues to perform consistently six years after the Orioles refused to offer him a four-year extension, is a notable exception.
Núñez had a .4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2020 while Cruz, who’s 40, had a 1.6.
Back when Cruz led the majors in home runs with 40 in 2014, his only Oriole season, he played 70 games in the outfield. He hasn’t played in the outfield even semi-regularly since 2016.
Most teams prefer to rotate an extra bat in the lineup as Orioles manager Brandon Hyde did in 2020 when he could play catchers Chance Sisco and Pedro Severino simultaneously, one at DH and one behind the plate. Hyde could do that because the Orioles had Bryan Holaday as a third catcher on a 28-man roster.
Next season’s schedule, rules and procedures are still in doubt. While the Players Association says it’s preparing for a mid-February start for spring training and a full 162-game season, that might be overly optimistic because of the pandemic.
Major League Baseball and the players have to negotiate the fate of the designated hitter. Because one-third of the games played in 2020 were interleague, the DH was used in all games.
There’s talk that the owners would offer the players the full-time DH in return for their agreement on expanded playoffs. A universal DH is generally thought to mean a higher salaried player.
It’s assumed that even if there isn’t a DH in 2021, a universal designated hitter will be adopted for the Collective Bargaining Agreement that’s set to take effect in 2022.
The uncertainty could hurt the market for Cruz, Núñez and others seen as possible designated hitters, including Michael Brantley, Howie Kendrick and Marcell Ozuna.
With the free agent market off to a slow start and the December 2nd deadline approaching for those eligible for arbitration, it seems unlikely that there will be clarity on a DH for 2021 anytime soon.
Managers of the Year: The most interesting facet of the National League Manager of the Year voting was that nine of the 15 managers received at least one vote.
Miami’s Don Mattingly, who dealt gracefully with the tumult surrounding the Marlins’ early-season Covid-19 decimation, was a deserving winner.
Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash won the AL award. Just six of the 15 managers received awards.
Because of the 60-game schedule, award voting was harder because there weren’t enough games to separate award contenders.
The Orioles last won a major award in 2014 when Buck Showalter captured his third Manager of the Year award.
Cy Young winners will be announced Wednesday, and Most Valuable Player on Thursday.