Tigers hope slugger Renato Nunez can fill a void at first base
Lakeland, Fla. — One team’s misfit might just be another’s missing piece.
The Tigers were two weeks away from commencing spring training without a full-time first baseman in camp. That may have changed on Wednesday.
The club announced they have signed former Baltimore Orioles slugger Renato Nunez to a minor-league contract, with an invitation to spring training.
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Nunez, entering his age-27 season, was a fixture in the Orioles lineup the last two seasons — a productive fixture. He slugged 31 home runs and knocked in 90 in 151 games in 2019. He followed that up with 12 homers and 31 RBIs in 52 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
It was surprising, given his productivity, that the Orioles decided to designate him for assignment to clear roster space ahead of the Rule 5 draft last November.
“He’s a quality player and a good hitter and a big power threat,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias told the Baltimore Sun. “Ours is not the ideal roster for him in terms of a fit. We have several players that play the defensive spots that he does and sort of fill that profile for us.”
Ryan Mountcastle, Trey Mancini and Chris Davis are among the players who fill the corner infield-designated hitter role that Nunez occupied the last two years.
Certainly Nunez will have an opportunity to win the first base job in Detroit. The Tigers would prefer to play Jeimer Candelario at third base, where he posted a plus-5 defensive runs saved the last two seasons, before shifting to first base early last year.
Manager AJ Hinch has said he’s willing to use Miguel Cabrera some at first base — depending on his health, of course. Utility players Harold Castro and Niko Goodrum can play first base, as can journeyman minor-leaguer Aderlin Rodriguez, whom the Tigers have invited to big-league camp.
But there is a definite path for Nunez to win the everyday job, and not just for a year. He is under team control through 2024.
The Tigers on Wednesday also made official the signing of veteran utility infielder Greg Garcia to a minor-league contract. The 31-year-old former Cardinal and Padre also will be in big-league camp.