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What to do with Eduardo Nunez

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Here’s a question the Yankees might not answer until spring training.

What’s Eduardo Nunez’s role in all of this?

Ideally, he would be the third baseman; a guy who made Kevin Youkilis unnecessary and gave the Yankees an in-house placeholder for Alex Rodriguez. He would have taken a step forward last season, improved his defense, proven himself on offense and been ready to step into regular playing time.

At the very least — after opening the previous two seasons on the big league bench — you’d think the Yankees would be able to count on Nunez as a dependable and tested utility man; an obvious choice as the Yankees top infield reserve. He’d be locked into a big league role, backing up Youkilis and Derek Jeter while providing speed and a pretty good right-handed bat off the bench.  

But neither of those is a comfortable option at this point.

Instead, Nunez remains a mystery. There’s still a lot to like about his bat, and it’s easy to see the tools on defense, but he hasn’t developed any sort of consistency. The Yankees believe he’s better off staying at shortstop, which makes him an odd utility choice — the rare bench player who can only play short — but is he going to gain any of that missing consistency by playing the field once or twice a week? Is there really anything to learn from another stint in Triple-A?

So what role should Nunez play next season? What role can he play next season?

How about backup shortstop and platoon designated hitter? Has that combination ever existed?

If the Yankees re-sign Raul Ibanez, they’ll need to pair him with a right-handed hitter. Nunez could be that guy. And the combination would be especially effective if the Yankees find a right-handed fourth outfielder with power. Against lefties, the fourth outfielder would take the place of either Brett Gardner or Ichiro Suzuki in the field, and take the place of Ibanez in the lineup. Nunez would take the place of Ibanez at DH, and take the place or either Gardner or Ichiro in the lineup. Power for power. Speed for speed.

Once or twice a week, Jeter could DH or sit while Nunez plays the field. In fact, it might work out just as well to label Jeter as the DH against lefties, while Nunez essentially serves as a platoon shortstop. Might help Jeter stay healthy through the first half of the year, and the plan could be adjusted when Rodriguez returns.

The Yankees bench — with a right-handed outfielder, a backup catcher and Nunez — would still have room for one more, either a true utility man — someone like Jayson Nix — or a four-corners guy to primarily help at third base and occasionally play the outfield. If Nunez has to play second base three or four times during the year, that might be a risk the Yankees have to take.

Bottom line is: If the Yankees aren’t going to trade Nunez, they might as well find a way to use him.

Associated Press photo