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Former Orioles slugger Renato Núñez signs minor league deal with Tigers

Former Orioles slugger Renato Núñez has signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers with an invitation to spring training, the club announced Wednesday.

Núñez, 26, hit .253 with a .783 OPS in three seasons with the Orioles after being claimed on waivers from the Texas Rangers in March 2018. He led Baltimore in home runs since his team debut in July 2018, including 31 in 2019 and a team-best 12 in 52 games in 2020. But with the Orioles wanting to add six Rule 5 draft-eligible prospects to their 40-man roster in November and having only five open spots, they designated Núñez for assignment to create the last opening.

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A regular contributor at designated hitter and first base, Núñez played the most games for the Orioles (203) since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde took over in the 2018 offseason.

Next on that list was infielder Hanser Alberto with 189. The December deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, essentially locking both players into a raise, led to Núñez and Alberto being released. The pair will now be American League Central rivals, as Alberto signed a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals last month.

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“He’s a quality player and a good hitter and a big power threat,” Elias said of Núñez in November. “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.

“We certainly appreciate his contributions here, and wherever he ends up, we’ll continue to root for Renato.”

While Núñez ranked in the top 50 among major league players in barrel rate (12.1%) in 2020, he recorded a 29.6% strikeout rate and a low 7.9% walk rate. Since Opening Day in 2019, 30.6% of Nunez’s plate appearances have resulted in a strikeout or a pop-up, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

With former All-Star Miguel Cabrera playing as the designated hitter most nights for Detroit, Núñez will likely need to beat out Jeimer Candelario and Niko Goodrum for a spot at first base. Former Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop is also a candidate to play some first base, if necessary.

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Núñez’s first base/designated hitter spot with the Orioles will presumably be split between Trey Mancini, who is returning from a battle with colon cancer, and Ryan Mountcastle, a former top prospect who emerged last season.

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