Oldies but goodies: 5 aging sluggers to draft
Don't overlook reliable production from Pujols, Beltre, Cruz
Age is simply a number -- you are only as old as you feel.
During 2016, David Ortiz must have felt quite young. The imposing slugger rode into retirement on a high note, posting 38 homers with 127 RBIs and a Major League-leading 1.021 OPS in his age-40 campaign. Ortiz was not alone among difference-making veteran stars, as a handful of players produced terrific fantasy seasons despite having surpassed their 35th birthdays by Opening Day.
While they are unlikely to match Ortiz's astonishing '16 production, the following five players -- who will all be at least 36 years old at the outset of the '17 season -- still have the necessary skills to rank among the top fantasy sluggers.
Jose Pujols, first baseman (Angels): Pujols capitalized on the opportunity to regularly hit behind superstar Michael Trout in '16, ranking fourth in the Majors with 119 RBIs. While the slugger no longer possesses the superlative offensive skills of his prime years -- as evidenced by his sub-.800 OPS in each of the past four seasons -- he can still make frequent contact (11.5 percent strikeout rate in '16) and provide plus power (71 homers across '15-16). If he can recover from December right foot surgery by Opening Day, the veteran should approach 30 homers and 100 RBIs again.
Adrian Beltre, third baseman (Rangers): During an excellent '16 campaign, Beltre reached the 30-homer mark for the first time since '13, hit .300 for the sixth time in his career and plated 104 runs. While expecting another 30-plus long balls in '17 may be overly optimistic, the 37-year-old should produce at least 25 round-trippers and 90 RBIs in his 20th Major League season.
Nelson Cruz, outfielder (Mariners): The only man to reach the 40-homer mark in each of the past three seasons, Cruz is undoubtedly among baseball's most powerful players. The slugger showed no signs of slowing down in '16, leading the Majors in average exit velocity (95.7 mph, min. 200 balls in play), per Statcast™, and posting the second-best ISO (.268) of his career. The veteran has also proven to be more reliable than many of his younger counterparts, avoiding the disabled list in each of the past five campaigns. From the heart of a productive Mariners' lineup, the 36-year-old could enjoy another prolific offensive effort in '17.
Jose Bautista, outfielder (free agent): Bautista missed considerable time with injuries and showed some signs of decline when healthy in '16, producing his worst strikeout rate (19.9 percent), HR/FB rate (16.3 percent) and OPS (.817) since '09. But the campaign was not without its positives, as the slugger recorded an impressive 16.8 percent walk rate with strong average exit-velocity (92.6 mph) and fly-ball-distance (330 feet) marks. With improved health, Bautista -- who tallied 75 round-trippers, 217 RBIs and 209 runs scored across '14-15 -- could reestablish himself as a mixed-league lineup anchor in short order.
Curtis Granderson, outfielder (Mets): Granderson offset a 51-point BABIP decline between '15 (.305) and '16 (.254) with increased power, posting his best homer total (30) and ISO (.228) since '12. The outfielder also served as a solid table-setter for the Mets despite hitting only .237, as he continued to demonstrate plus patience at the plate (11.7 percent walk rate in '16). With better batted-ball luck in '17, the 35-year-old could raise his average north of .250 and make a realistic push for 100 runs scored.