Many Fantasy Baseball players have a hesitancy to draft veteran players. The last few seasons have seen many young players emerge to relevancy faster than years past and aging veterans get pushed down draft boards.
Sometimes, this is a savvy move and other times it presents great value. It began to happen to Nelson Cruz last season and based on early January drafts, he’s falling further. The Twins’ designated hitter has an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 120.62 on fantrax.com. That’s way too low.
Cruz turns 39 in July, but he hasn’t shown skill decline. Cruz is only eligible at utility spots in most leagues since he played only four games in the outfield and drafters are hesitant to lock up that spot early. David Ortiz was consistently undervalued in the final few seasons of his career because people didn’t want to fill the utility spot early. That’s no reason to pass on a productive player. We have an aging veteran, only eligible at utility and on a new team.
Cruz was a free agent after the 2018 season and signed a one-year contract for $14.3 million with the Twins and a $12 million club option for 2020. Cruz played in 144 games last year, the fewest since 2013 when he played 109. He missed some games due to back tightness, getting hit by a pitch on the elbow and sat during some games in National League parks.
Cruz hit .256 with 70 runs, 37 home runs, 97 RBIs and an .850 OPS in 2018. Cruz has hit at least 37 home runs in five straight seasons, scored at least 87 runs in four of the last five seasons and has at least 93 RBIs in five straight seasons. Since 2014, Cruz has averaged 41 home runs and 104 RBIs per season. Over the last three seasons, Cruz is third in home runs and fifth in RBIs.
Cruz struck out 20.6 percent of the time, the lowest mark since 2014. The walk rate of 9.3 percent is in line with recent seasons. Cruz had a BABIP of .264, well below his career mark of .305 and with a career-high 42.3 percent hard hit rate and a reasonable 38.5 percent fly ball rate, there was some bad luck explaining the dip in average. Cruz was seventh overall in hard hit percentage, so the skills are still great.
What about the move to Minnesota? Cruz will likely bat fourth in an improved lineup. T-Mobile Park in Seattle was 27th in runs and 15th in home runs, according to ESPN MLB Park Factors, while Target Field in Minnesota was 16th in runs and 20th in home runs. Cruz’s power plays everywhere.
Another positive aspect for Cruz is the shift in divisions. Cruz moves from the American League West to the Central, which is extremely weak, especially for pitching. He will get a lot of games against the White Sox, Royals and Tigers and doesn’t see the Astros as often.
It’s always difficult to predict the decline of an aging player. There’s a chance Cruz gets banged up and misses more games than usual, but he’s still performing at a high level, gets to be the designated hitter reducing the chance for injury since he can’t get hurt playing defense and the price has fallen in a big way.
Steamer has Cruz with a projection of .282/.361/.533 with 89 runs, 36 home runs and 104 RBIs in 146 games. That is worth more than an overall pick of 120. I expect his price to rise before March drafts and one of the benefits in drafting early is getting this good value.
The bottom line is don’t worry about locking up your utility spot and while the age of Cruz is a concern, it’s priced in. Target Cruz as a good value again.
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