The Orioles are designating infielder Renato Núñez for assignment, per various reporters (including Joe Trezza of MLB.com). Baltimore is also adding six players to the 40-man roster in advance of tonight’s deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft: infielder Rylan Bannon, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, right-handers Michael Baumann and Isaac Mattson and left-handers Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells.
Some may be surprised to see the Orioles letting go of Núñez. The 26-year-old has been an everyday player for Baltimore over the past two seasons, slugging .469 and hitting 43 home runs in 815 plate appearances. However, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams explored at length in previewing the Orioles’ offseason, Núñez indeed looked like a potential non-tender candidate. Núnez’s relatively low walk rates have led to a lackluster .314 on-base percentage over the past two years. He’s not well-regarded as a defender at third base, either. Overall, he’s only been worth around one win above replacement the past two seasons combined in the estimation of both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
Evidently, Baltimore decided Núñez’s on-base and defensive deficiencies outweighed the power potential he brings, particularly as he enters arbitration for the first time. Núñez is projected for a salary in the $2.1MM – $3.9MM range this offseason, and the Orioles were clearly prepared to non-tender him prior to the December 2 deadline. With that settled, there’s little reason to keep Núñez on the 40-man roster beyond today’s Rule 5 protection deadline.
It’s still possible the O’s find a trade partner involving Núñez in the coming days. He does have some appeal as a potential 1B/DH option and hit better in 2020 than he had in 2019. If another team were to acquire Núñez, they could control him through arbitration for the next four seasons.