Distracted by the Heath Bell signing and USF's disappointing so-close-but-yet-so-fraking-far effort against West Virginia, I missed a bit of Rays news last night. According to Baseball America (and first picked up on by Rays Digest), the Rays have signed reliever Jhonny Nunez to a minor league deal.
Nunez is an intriguing option out of the 'pen. He was one of the players acquired by the White Sox in the trade that sent Nick Swisher to the Yankees, and he never quite reached his potential. He features a 92-95 MPH fastball and a slider, and his issue in the low minors was his command. He straightened that out as he rose to Double- and Triple-A, but he's never quite put it all together; in Triple-A, his strikeout rate has sat around 9 K/9, and his walk rate has remained at 3.5 per nine. He's had an ongoing problem with allowing hits and homeruns, though, so he's had a 4.34 ERA for the past two seasons.
This is no homerun signing by any stretch of the imagination, but Nunez does have some potential. He'll be entering his age 26 season, and he has posted some impressive results against right-handed hitters (2010 Splits: 3.17 FIP vs. R, 6.29 FIP vs. L). Based on his profile, I'm wondering if he could turn into a poor man's version of Dan Wheeler: a homer prone ROOGY that's effective if used in the right situations.
In other Rays news, Andrew Friedman spoke to the press yesterday as a pre-Winter Meeting briefing. He didn't say anything all that radical -- as always, Friedman hides his hand well -- but he did confirm what most of us were thinking: that shortstop would be filled internally next season, and the Rays aren't likely to add another catcher.
He also noted that he wasn't intending to trade B.J. Upton, and I'm beginning to believe him on that front. The Rays are looking to add offense for 2012, so trading away Upton would hurt that goal...and no team will want to give up a young impact hitter in return for an older, more expensive defensive centerfielder. The trade market has never seemed all that hot on Upton, so it's seeming more and more likely that we get one more season from him.