In an interesting move heading into the trade deadline, the Yankees swung a deal with the White Sox landing third baseman/first baseman Todd Frazier and relief pitchers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.
This trade did a number of things for the Yankees in the short term; it bolstered their bullpen for a playoff push with two reliable arms, it jettisoned the poorly performing Tyler Clippard from a team and a manager that lost its faith in his ability to get high leverage outs, and it secured an additional ‘proven closer’ for late inning work and a possible role replacement should Betances continue to have command/walk issues in the 8th inning or if Chapman needs another DL stint and can’t man the 9th inning. Additionally, the Yankees haven’t been happy with the production Chase Headley was providing at 3rd base and the 1st base production for the team had been all but non-existent. Thus, the addition of Frazier was thought to help rectify that problem as well.
However, the acquisition of Frazier has been seen by many fans and analysts as a preemptive strike against the Red Sox, a team also struggling to find average to above average play from their third basemen as the team makes its own run towards securing a spot in the post-season. It’s been postulated that the Yankee’s primary move in their trade with the White Sox was focused on addressing bullpen needs while the addition of Frazier in the trade was to block the Red Sox from enjoying his services for the remainder of 2017 (while to a lesser extent also trying to rectify their own infield productivity concerns). However, based on the Red Sox’s actions since the Yankee – White Sox trade, I believe that either the premise of Frazier being acquired to block the Sox is incorrect or that Boston actually lucked into a better situation as a result of the Yankees picking up Frazier.
Since Frazier has donned the Yankee pinstripes, The Red Sox have made two significant moves to address their third base dilemma (not counting the addition by subtraction of releasing Pablo Sandoval). The team called up top prospect, Rafael Devers and also traded with the Giants to acquire Eduardo Nunez. While it will be interesting to see how Devers adjusts to the major leagues and whether the Sox can catch lightening in a bottle with him, it is the team’s addition of Nunez that seems to be the piece in this Yanks – Sox chess match that may be most interesting.
Frazier is the more recognizable player for many baseball fans. He was a back to back All Star selection in 2014 and 2015 and has shown consistent pop (29, 35, and 40 homers in his last three full seasons) although his batting average and OPS have begun to significantly drop. Nunez, an All Star selection in 2016, plays both infield and outfield. Although he hits for significantly less power than Frazier, his batting average is safer and he has also increased his stolen base output (especially in the past two seasons).
Here is a quick look at how Frazier and Nunez compare in 2017:
Todd Frazier – age 31 – free agent at the end of the 2017 season. 2017 salary = 12 million dollars.
In 2017, Frazier has played 3rd base, 1st base, and designated hitter.
16 home runs, 44 RBI, 42 Runs, and 4 stolen bases in 87 games.
Edwardo Nunez – age 30 – free agent at the end of the 2017 season. 2017 salary = 4.2 million dollars.
In 2017, Nunez has played 3rd base, shortstop, left field, and right field.
4 home runs, 31 RBI, 37 Runs, and 18 stolen bases in 76 games.
Clearly, Frazier and Nunez are two very different third base options. Frazier is low average and power while Nunez is batting average and stolen bases. Although the Red Sox and Yankees don’t have to penny pinch, Nunez and his contract appear to be a much better value than Frazier and his contract. Additionally, Nunez has the additional advantage of being able to play shortstop as well as the outfield while Frazier is strictly a corner infielder. Although his glove work is not great historically, especially at shortstop, Nunez’s ability to play all over the field may allow the Sox to keep him in the lineup even if Devers gets a stranglehold on third base playing time.
The Yankees, through their trade with the White Sox were able to significantly upgrade their ball club. However, if the impetus to add Frazier as part of the deal occurred merely to block their rival in Boston from making a move for him, they may have misplayed their hand. There is the potential that the unintended consequence of their move allowed the Red Sox to add a low cost player in Nunez who can provide similar value (but a significantly different skill set) to Frazier. Nunez also has additional value in the position flexibility he offers which will allow the team to audition their top prospect while also allowing rest to various position players around the diamond as the season winds down.