Rarely do you hear the term “upside” used for players entering their age-33 seasons, but hear me out: Nelson Cruz has upside.
Reason #1: He’ll likely come at a PEDs discount. Is this reasonable? Sure. Rational? Not entirely. It’s hard to say how much performance enhancing drugs has affected Cruz’s performance as a hitter, but there’s no denying he’s a monster. I think people run for the hills when they hear “PEDs,” but it’s simply too difficult to prove how much PEDs affects players. Feel free to disagree; the point of the matter is Cruz could fall in drafts because of Biogenesis.
Reason #2: If he makes it through a full season, he is capable of hitting 35 to 40 home runs. Of course, there’s a lot riding on the “if” portion of that claim, and detractors will be quick to note that Cruz hit only 24 home runs in his only full, healthy season as a Ranger. In that season, however, he posted his lowest HR/FB of his career. In every other almost-full season, he has hit home runs at full-season paces of 33, 37, 40 and 42. That’s an average of 38 home runs per year. So: imagine if he stays healthy.
ESPN projects Cruz to hit 26 home runs (they have him ranked No. 41) — and that’s reasonable, because the dude always get injured (or suspended). Still, injury woes can’t hold back the love for Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez and Cruz are in completely different leagues in regard to talent, but the point still stands: If CarGo can make it through a full season uninjured, he is the second-best player in baseball behind Mike Trout. The same goes for Cruz. People only expect him to play 110 games, but if he can play a full 162 (or close to it), he could threaten 40.
I think that’s worthy of a bit of a premium, especially if guys like Alfonso Soriano (ESPN No. 38 OF) and Curtis Granderson (ESPN No. 40 OF) are expected to go off the board before Cruz but essentially put up the same stats as him in a full season.
Not everyone needs a player like Cruz, but if you’re looking for consistent power with upside at a possible discount, Cruz is your man. I hadn’t considered targeting him until now, but after signing a very disappointing contract with the Baltimore Orioles, he may have something to prove this year. I’ll gladly be the owner to benefit from that.