Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Examining What Nelson Cruz Would Bring to the Braves

So far, we've looked at two names that the Atlanta Braves could pursue this offseason in Prince Fielder and Juan Rivera.

We'll continue in the Juan Rivera-Esq direction (as in realistic options) with this piece.

Now, I know that I made a small case against him in the Juan Rivera article, but today we are going to talk about Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz.

In his first full-time role with the Rangers in 2009, Cruz posted a very respectable .260/.332/.524 line with 33 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Perfect fit for the Braves, right?

Right-handed, powerful, can run...what do the Rangers want?

Well, I have some reservations that need to be addressed before I'm willing to say "gimmie gimmie gimmie"

Consider these facts:
  1. Nelson Cruz played the majority of his games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (obviously).
    Here are his Home/Road splits for average, slugging percentage, and homers:
    .286/.232, .568/.478, 18/15
    By the way, about 44% of balls he put in play were in the air (his home park helped that average, no question).
    Now, Cruz was by no means "useless" on the road, but he wasn't what he was at home (wow, bad crammer).
  2. He's not exactly "young."
    One of the big things you hear about when Braves' fans talk about Cruz is that he's a "young" power option.
    I'm not saying that 28-going-on-29 is "old," but you have to consider this when you look at his last few seasons.
    From his 25-year-old to his 27-year-old seasons, Cruz averaged a home run every 25 at-bats with a .251 average.
    All of a sudden (granted, when hitting an age where many players hit their prime), he goes down to a homer every 13 at-bats while hitting .260.
    Not that he couldn't do what he did in '09 again, but you have to admit that Cruz, in his past-prospect stage of development, may have experienced a fluke.
  3. The strikeouts.
    Even with the superb 2009, he had a strikeout (approximately) once every four at-bats.
    As a reference point for Braves' fans, Jeff Francoeur had one every 6.5 at-bats.
    Do I need to say any more?
  4. The durability.
    In addition to having his own, if you will, shortcomings as a player, he has also had to deal with issues with his body.
    All of his stats came in 128 games (which make them a little more impressive).
    That came from shared time in the outfield with Marlon Byrd, Andruw Jones, Josh Hamilton, and others as well as, as manager Ron Washington said, his body breaking down.
    That's not to say that he hasn't built up strength or that he wouldn't last 145 games, but it makes you wonder.

Let me get one thing straight, though: Cruz is talented and would fit nicely, I just cant say that I'm 100% sure 2009 wasn't a fluke.

OK, now we have my objections out of the way, let's talk about what would have to ha pen to get him.

We all know about the Braves' situation: too much pitching, not enough pop, blah, blah, blah.

Let's talk about how Texas' outfield looks next season.

I think it's safe to assume that Julio Borbon and Josh Hamilton (if healthy) are locks for the Rangers outfield.

Cruz is on the fringe.

Not because he wasn't valuable or anything, but because he could bring back a nice package of prospects if the Rangers choose to trade him.

If they do, where does that leave them?

They don't have any CLOSE outfield prospects of blue-chip status (Engel Beltre has only seen four games in AA), and they would be strapped for someone to fill the void left by Cruz in their outfield.

That is, unless they retain Marlon Byrd.

That'll be the key, in my opinion, to any hope of a Braves prospects-for-Cruz swap.

If they keep Byrd, which is what I'm banking on, the Braves could probably get away with a little less than what would be required to get him if the Rangers choose not to retain him.

Still, I think a good mixture of OF potential and MLB-ready and mid-potential pitching would be needed to get Cruz (unless the Rangers want to thank the Braves for the Teixeira deal and take a little less...and I just cried a little thinking of Neftali Feliz).

Here's the Deal:

Rangers get: Kris Medlen (RHP), Todd Redmond (RHP), Cody Johnson (OF), David Francis (RHP)
Braves get: Nelson Cruz

As I've said before: I think Kris Medlen will be the centerpiece of any deal for a bat.

You have to let go of talent to get any in return, and Kris Medlen definitely has that.

Redmond would be a nice swing-man for the Rangers, while Cody Johnson and David Francis are both mid-to-high potential prospects that will be (or soon will be) blocked.

The Braves get their outfielder, the Rangers get more of the Braves' prospects.

Bottom line: While I certainly don't think that Nelson Cruz is the best option available to the Braves (Juan Rivera-for the consistency, Matt Holliday-for being Matt Holliday, etc.), there is no doubt that he could make a huge impact in Atlanta.

Now, let's hear some opinions.

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