The Tigers announced Wednesday that they’ve signed infielder/designated hitter Renato Nunez to a minor league contract with an invite to Major League Spring Training. They also confirmed their previously reported minors pact with infielder Greg Garcia. The Atheltic’s Cody Stavenhagen first reported talks between the Tigers and Nunez, who is represented by Octagon.
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.