|The Nationals picked up middle infield insurance in Alberto Gonzalez, acquiring him from the Yankees for power righthander Jhonny Nunez.|
|Gonzalez, 25, shares a name with the former U.S. Attorney General but
is not related. He began his career in the Diamondbacks organization
and came to the Yankees, along with since-traded righty Ross Ohlendorf
and righty Stephen Jackson, in the deal that sent Randy Johnson back
out to Arizona. Gonzalez is an above-average defensive shortstop with
solid range, soft hands and a plus arm, but he wasn't the top defender
at the position in the Yankees system—that's Double-A Trenton's Ramon
Pena. Gonzalez had not shown he could hit upper-level pitching yet,
hitting just .250/.313/.356 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and was
just 10-for-66 in his two short big league stints, including 9-for-52
(.173) this season. He's shown some plate discipline throughout his
career but lacks the power to be an everyday regular at just 5-foot-11 and
Nunez, 22, came to the Nationals organization from the Dodgers in the 2006 Marlon Anderson trade. He went 4-6, 4.05 last year at low Class A Hagerstown in his steady full-season debut, which he spent almost exclusively as a starter. But Nunez struggled to maintain his velocity late into games and lacked a quality third pitch, so a move to the bullpen seemed inevitable. He advanced to high Class A Potomac to start this year, going 2-8, 5.22 with 82 strikeouts and 21 walks in 81 innings over 21 appearances (17 starts). Nunez has worked out of the bullpen since earning a midseason promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, going 0-0, 1.13 in eight innings. He profiles as a middle reliever down the road, with a lively, sinking fastball that tops out at 94 mph and an improving slider from a low three-quarters arm slot.
This trade is puzzling for the Nationals, who recently extended shortstop Cristian Guzman's contract for two more years and acquired second baseman Emilio Bonifacio from Arizona for Jon Rauch. Gonzalez is a spare part who does not project as a big league regular. The Nationals are expected to place Guzman on the disabled list, but it seems short-sighted to part with a young, power arm for a low-upside, short-term insurance policy. Maybe Nunez will be just a middle reliever, and maybe he won't reach the big leagues at all, but he certainly has a higher ceiling than Gonzalez. The Nationals system is thin in the middle infield, but acquiring more utility players is a strange solution.