Spin Doctors: Nelson Cruz vs. Jason Bay

Navigating the outfield is a critical part of fantasy success – you'll need 4-5 of them in most leagues, perhaps more – and with that in mind, we've decided to throw down over a couple of big ticket items today. When it comes to that second outfield prong, are you doing a Texas Two Step, or in a New York state of mind? Brad Evans and Scott Pianowski are here to debate to the death, in around 250 words each.

Noise to Open: To the cursory analyst, a Bay/Cruz comparison is ridiculously lopsided. Many would claim Halle Berry versus Mo'Nique is a tighter race. But scrutinizing the stats reveals an advantage for the Rangers slugger.

Prior to being derailed by an ankle injury last August, Cruz outpaced Bay in overall worth. According to Baseball Monster, the breakthrough ranked No. 12 at his position and No. 29 overall with a .272-25-58-55-17 line through August 1. Bay checked in at No. 13 and No. 30 respectively. Due to his nagging ankle issue, Cruz's numbers plummeted down the stretch, but, if he had remained healthy, the perceived divide wouldn't have been that dramatic.

Near 30, the power-packed Ranger is in the midst of his statistical prime. Though he's slated to open the season batting seventh, Texas' explosive offense and abundant table-setters will keep the RBI gap relatively close.

However, the same can't be said in the homer and steals categories. Arlington is a numbers generating bandbox. Last season, Cruz hit .286 with 18 homers and 45 RBI in the friendly atmosphere. Bay's transition from smallish Fenway to cavernous Citi Field will shave homers. And don't argue lowering the fences greatly enhance his chances of replicating 36 homers. Also, Cruz will likely outdistance his counterpart by roughly 10-12 steals. Bay's 13 swipes last year was his highest output since 2005. Jerry Manuel is an aggressive manager, but a regression back into the single digits is probable for the Metropolitan.

Considering Cruz can be selected some 30-40 picks later, he is the better bargain, and quite possibly the finer player.

Pianow to Close: There's plenty of time to be an hero at your draft, but the early rounds aren't about upside, they're about floor. Bay has been a fantasy stalwart in five of the past six seasons, and give him a pass for 2007 – he was hobbling around like Fred G. Sanford that summer, dealing with two problematic knees. You know what you're getting here, 25-30 homers, around 100 runs and 100 RBIs, and 10 steals or more now that he's back in the NL. Assuming the Mets have exorcized their injury curse (scat, cat), Bay stands as a very safe, if somewhat pedestrian, investment. You don't want risk with those early picks, you want sure things.

Cruz offers plenty of pop and some nifty speed, but doesn't the downside bother you here? Start with batting average, the silent killer: Cruz is a career .255 guy, Bay's at .280. Ron Washington wants to hit Cruz seventh, and Washington is the type of skipper who will jerk around a player at the slighest hint of a slump (we saw that with Cruz last year). And remember Cruz's stats took a notable dip in the second half of 2009 – his average, power and running frequency all decreased. Just a blip on the radar, or was the league catching up to this late bloomer?

Bay's obviously going to miss Fenway Park but he'll produce anywhere; his power was actually more pronounced on the road last year (21 homers, .542 slugging). Mr. Evans wants to take you on a Caribbean Mediterranean Cruz, but the smart money is on the steady Canadian.

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