Despite calls for the Cardinals to make a major splash as they seek an outfield upgrade, the team reportedly has interest in a more unproven player.
As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network reported on Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals have apparently expressed interest in trading for Kansas City Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson. Tension has increasingly surrounded the Cardinals as several free agent outfielders (Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes) have begun to come off the board, while others such as Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond have been more heavily linked to other clubs.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and staff have maintained all offseason that their biggest goal is to acquire a more defensively sound center fielder, or at the very least to acquire a skilled corner outfielder in order to reduce the pressure on Randal Grichuk. While all indications are that the Cardinals are still expected to make that happen, via trade or free agency, every passing day creates more pressure on Mozeliak to make a move. On Monday, the general manager went so far as to reference scenarios such as starting Tommy Pham “if the season started today”, according to KSDK’s Frank Cusumano.
Dyson, a 32-year-old who was a late bloomer after spending most of his early career as a running-and-defense specialist off the bench, enjoyed a career-best season at the plate in 2016.
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Over a career-high 337 plate appearances, Dyson hit .278/.340/.388 with one homer, 39 strikeouts, and 26 walks. That lack of power might be concerning for some clubs, but probably not the Cardinals, who arguably had too much power in 2016, hitting an NL-best 225 homers but getting on base at a rather mediocre .325 clip.
Perhaps more importantly, Dyson’s a very skilled defensive center fielder, and he saw extended action at the position in 2016. As regular center fielder Lorenzo Cain dealt with a hamstring strain beginning in late June, Dyson became the Royals’ primary center fielder. Though Cain returned in late July, Dyson remained in center, splitting time with Paulo Orlando there as Cain shifted to right in an attempt to ease the stress on his legs. Cain later had to shut his season down early with a hand injury, at which point Dyson began starting virtually every game in center once again.
Based on UZR/150, Fangraphs’ estimate of what a fielder’s ultimate zone rating would equate to if he played in 150 games, Dyson was the fifth-best defensive center fielder in baseball during 2016 (min. 200 innings). As you can see from this catch, he’s also got a penchant for the big play:
However, Dyson’s premier skill, stealing bases–he stole 30 in 2016 and has swiped 176 bags in his major-league career–might not be too advantageous for a Cardinals team that hasn’t taken advantage of the stolen base for a long, long while. Jason Heyward, who stole 23 bases in 2015, is the only Cardinal to have more than 20 steals in a season during the current decade, and the team had a National League-worst 35 steals in 2016.
With Dyson, Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Danny Duffy, and Wade Davis set to hit free agency next offseason, the Royals are likely to lose a substantial amount of their core after their 2017 campaign. Thus, they’d probably be very open to a trade or two if a trade partner was willing to part with some solid prospects or cost-controlled players in return.