Yankees Free Agent Target: Nelson Cruz

Stephen Dunn

Could Nelson Cruz fit into the Yankees' lineup in 2014?

It doesn't take more than one look at the Yankees roster to realize that they need an outfielder. With Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells currently the options for right field, the Yankees have already been connected to a number of outfielders on the market this offseason, namely Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson. Should they not reach a deal with any of those guys, a possible alternative could be Nelson Cruz.

The 33-year-old Cruz just rejected the Texas Rangers' qualifying offer of 14.1 million, meaning that signing him would cost the Yankees their first round draft pick. The main thing that Nelson Cruz gives that other free agent outfielders don't is consistent, above average power from the right side. Cruz can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and he's done it every year with consistency. Since 2009 he has a very respectable line of .272/.331/.511 with 135 home runs, which ranks sixth among qualified outfielders over that period (Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Ryan Braun, Alfonso Soriano). His 119 wRC+ over that time is well above average, and he already had 27 home runs this season on August 5 before being suspended for connections to Biogenesis.

The main downside to Cruz is that he is abysmal defensively, posting a UZR of -10 or worse in each of his past three seasons. Though he does have a strong throwing arm in right field, he's definitely the type of player you sign for his offensive production. If he hits, you can live with the defense, whatever it may be.

The Biogenesis ties will complicate Cruz's value on the free agent market, but he has a pretty decent history of consistent offensive production. He doesn't have a drastic righty/lefty split, and for the most part there hasn't been much variation in his numbers from year to year. He turned down the Rangers' qualifying offer, so you can bet that he's probably going to get a multi-year deal from somebody.

The Yankees are likely going to look into the other outfielders on the market first and see what's there, and they should. If they prove to be too costly, however, Nelson Cruz could be a viable alternative in the right deal. With Alex Rodriguez's status for 2014 uncertain, the Yankees could be in need of a right-handed power threat. If Cruz comes at a reasonable price, then it could be worth checking into.

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