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Fantasy Baseball Bargain Watch: Nelson Cruz

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Adam Dunn with speed.
Adam Dunn with speed.

A late bloomer, Nelson Cruz didn't make a significant impact in the major leagues until after his 28th birthday. Injuries have kept him from becoming a first rounder in fantasy but he has the skill set to put up numbers worthy of an opening round selection. Since it's unlikely anyone will be grabbing him that early Cruz is an ideal candidate for a bargain.

A closer look at why Nelson Cruz could be a bargain after the jump...

Given a full time role for the first time in 2009, Nelson Cruz ran with it and smacked 33 HR to go along with 20 SB. An ankle injury limited him to 128 games otherwise he could have made a run at 40 HR. In 2010 he missed even more time but managed to produce 22 HR and 17 SB in two thirds of a season. Those are similar numbers to Shin-Soo Choo in 40 less games. Just imagine the things he could do playing a full schedule. Therein lies the issue. Cruz has never played more than 128 games in a major league season, albeit he has only been a starter for 2 years. Luckily for fantasy owners they can fill his roster spot with a replacement when he is injured.

Cruz has similar power to the other oft-injured Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton but half the hype and twice the steals. Over the past 3 seasons he ranks behind only Adam Dunn in ISO for outfielders. Since Dunn no longer qualifies in the outfield Cruz is possibly the best power hitting outfielder in the game when playing. Crazy, I know. I never would have thought Cruz had Adam Dunn power but the numbers don't lie.

Given some BABIP regression he still remains a solid source of AVG as well. He should be capable of hitting above .270. His SB/CS of 37/8 the past 2 seasons mean he will continue to have the green light although he may run less in order to avoid the DL. I'm sure owners won't mind trading 5 SB for an extra 25 games played.

The injuries have caused him to drop in the rankings and Eno over at Rotohardball has him as his #21 ranked outfielder behind Delmon Young. Shin-Soo Choo comes in at #6 on the list. The Fantasy Baseball Guide puts Cruz at #16. The problem I have with these low rankings is they seem to forget that Cruz's roster spot will be filled by someone else when he is injured. Even 100 games of Cruz mixed with 62 games of a late round flier like Julio Borbon will produce nearly as much as healthier options like Choo and Hunter Pence. According to the Fantasy Baseball Guide Cruz provided $27 of value last year in only 108 games. That's $0.25 per game played compared to $0.215 per game from Choo, a pretty hefty gap. The 100 game Cruz and 62 game Borbon would give you $30 of production while a 162 game season from Choo would give $35 and Pence would provide $29. If Cruz matches last year's total of 108 games the combo of him and Borbon would be worth $32. If Cruz plays 120 games he and Borbon are essentially equal in value to an ironman Choo. Yes they take up two roster spots but isn't that what a bench is for?

According to couchmanagers.com Nelson Cruz has an ADP of 37.3, ninth among outfielders. Choo comes in just ahead of him in 8th. The somewhat high draft position mixed with his injury history make him a bit of a risky proposition but he has the talent to make that 37th pick a bargain which is rare. His power and speed combination is unmatched in the game right now. If you draft him expecting 100 games of elite production and 62 games of nothing you won't be disappointed. If he plays any more you have a bargain on your hands.