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Risk-reward: Nunez leaves Yankees with a hard choice

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If only Eduardo Nunez had made this easy for the Yankees, he might have been exactly the right player at exactly the right time. This would be a perfect moment for a young, offensive-minded utility infielder to fill a hole at third base and give Derek Jeter occasional rest at shortstop. Nunez could ease his way into steady playing time while the Yankees ease Jeter toward retirement.

If only he’d made it so easy.

Of course, there’s been nothing easy about Nunez. His current role is hard to define and his ultimate upside hard to imagine. Like Will wrote this morning, the Yankees still don’t know whether Nunez is a future shortstop, a utility infielder or a Triple-A standout. He might be nothing more than inevitable trade bait. Will thinks it’s time to find out — and I tend to agree — but isn’t that what the Yankees tried to do the past two years? The real question is whether the bumps along the way are going to be worth it.

This morning, Will brought up two shortstops for comparison, and although I’m not sure I buy the Alcides Escobar comparison — too good defensively, always considered a much bigger prospect than Nunez — the Ian Desmond comparison is interesting because it just might work as an extreme best-case scenario.

Both Nunez and Desmond had minor league careers dotted with 30-plus-error seasons. After Desmond made his major league debut with a handful of games in 2009, Baseball America wrote this: [3] Desmond is capable of making spectacular plays, but he must improve his concentration to cut down on errors on routine plays. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Desmond made 34 errors as the Nationals regular shortstop in 2010, then 23 errors in 2011, then 15 in 2012. He was a career .262/.304/.387 hitter through 1,191 big league at-bats before he exploded at age 26 for 25 homers and an .845 OPS last year.

Can Nunez make the same improvements and take the same offensive leap forward? I have no idea. Neither do the Yankees. As I said earlier, Desmond seems to be an extreme best-case scenario. The extreme worst-case scenario has something to do with lost ballgames and Jay-Z filing a lawsuit after he’s hit in the head by a horrific throw into the seats.

If regular playing time will make Nunez consistent and productive, then the bumps along the way might be worth it. If not, the bumps will be nothing more than ugly opportunities to lose games. Nunez has never made this easy, and so the Yankees have to make their choice. Are you curious to find out what he can become, or are you ready to cut bait and let someone else take the risk?

Associated Press photo