Nelson Cruz could have stayed with the Rangers and played for $14.1 million on a one year deal. Instead he sought fame and fortune on the market only to get pimp slapped in the face as teams were reluctant to give up a first round selection to bring him into the fold. Tail firmly planted between his legs, the 33 year old outfielder finally agreed to a one year deal worth $8 million to play for the Orioles in 2014. What will he bring to the Orioles in 2014? Potentially some pretty solid power work.
As I noted Cruz is already 33 years old, he'll turn 34 just before the All-Star game, so he's no spring chicken. The skills are what they are. They aren't going to get better at this point. Moreover, Cruz is entering an age where we can expect natural skills recession. We all get old at some point. Unfortunately for Cruz, he's also taken the field as if he was hobbled enough to need a walker, or at least a cane, at times. Here are his at-bat totals the past five seasons: 462, 399, 475, 585 and 413. He's always beat up, often times dealing with lower body injuries that limit his effectiveness as a base runner (more on that below). Hard to fully trust a guy who has a five year average of 126 games played a season, ain't it?
Cruz is a .268 career hitter. The last three years he has hit .263, .260 and .266. I could break things down, but really, there it is. What you see is what you get (I'll touch on the Ballpark situation in a moment). He's a middling average producer.
In 2009 Cruz stole 20 bags, and he followed that up with 17 more thefts in 2010. He's no longer that guy as injuries have sapped his effectiveness on the base paths. The last three seasons Cruz has failed to hit double-digits once in the steals column, and he's swiped a total of 22 bases. He's no longer going to do more than swipe a random base from time to time.
Cruz does have ample power. He's hit at least 24 homers each of the past three seasons and over the past five seasons he's averaged 27 bombs a season. That's a solid total in this pitching heaving era. However, it's actually more than “solid.” That mark might actually be termed impressive given the fact that he's only had one season of 500 at-bats the past five years. Per 550 at-bats the past five seasons Cruz has bashed 32 homers. How differently would you be looking at Cruz is he was averaging 32 big flies a year?
Despite all the injuries, Cruz has knocked in at least 76 runs each of the past five season. Given that 126 game average the past five seasons that consistency is pretty impressive. Per 150 games the last five seasons we're talking about an average of 97 ribbies a year.
As for the runs scored column, there's been more volatility there. He's scored as few as 49 runs and as many as 86 the past five years. This is what happens when you miss time with injuries an also are continually dealing with leg issues.
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According to Park Factors at ESPN, here is how Globe Life Park in Arlington (his old home which may have the worst name of any stadium in the world) compares to his new home of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Camden Yards: 10th in runs, 4th in homers, 26th in doubles
Globe Life: 17th in runs, 19th in homers, 24th in doubles
On the surface it appears that Camden Yards is a better enviornment to hit in, especially when we're talking homers. This is a potentially great thing for the 2014 outlook of Cruz. A look at Cruz's homer chart shows that every big fly he hit last season would have been in the seats at Camden Yards (see the chart below that is taken from the above link).
The Orioles can pound the baseball when everyone is going. Here is a look at what the lineup might look like in 2014.
David Lough/Nolan Reimold
The last couple of spots might be spotty, but that's as good a 1-7 as you'll likely find in the big leagues. Cruz should have a ton of run producing opportunities in the coming season.
If healthy and on the the field for 150 games, there is little doubt that Nelson has the talent, the ballpark, and the lineup to be a 30-100 guy. Of course, he's only appeared in 130 games once in the past five seasons, so his reliability grade is about a C- or a D+. As a result of this fact, something everyone is aware of by now, you won't have to rush to draft Cruz (unless you play in Baltimore). There are many leagues in which Cruz will be had a 4th or 5th outfielder in mixed leagues. If he's taken in that area there is little chance he will fail to bring you a nice return on your investment. Given his considerable upside, if you're willing to take a risk on his health you might actually end up pleased with the draft day risk of taking Cruz.
By Ray Flowers