I was going to post the last of my “Cactus Royals” posts today, but some surprising Royals-based news came up yesterday, and it would be hard not to talk about it, especially since it seems to be a polarizing one:
According to Jon Heyman, the Dyson deal looks to be a one-year, $1.5 million one, and also appears to be a MLB deal as well, which means Dyson would be expected to be on the Royals’ active roster by Opening Day on April 1st. For many Royals fans, the deal was unexpected, as the Royals not only seem set with Michael A. Taylor in center field, but also had intriguing bench options in Nick Heath and Edward Olivares as possible fourth outfielder options, with the latter going yard impressively in the Royals’ Spring Training game against the Cubs. However, the Royals are looking to take the next step in the American League Central next season, and there’s no question that Dyson’s speed and defense will be much needed off the bench in 2021. Furthermore, he will also bring a winning mindset and presence to a locker room that is flush with young guys, especially this Spring in Surprise.
That being said, while the Royals did lose some leadership in the locker room with Alex Gordon retiring, did the Royals need to make this move? Or could the Royals have gotten their bench speed and defense from someone currently on the Royals roster, with Heath and Olivares as the prime candidates?
Let’s take a look at what Dyson brings to the Royals this season, and whether or not Dayton Moore’s decision to bring the former 50th round Royals pick back to Kansas City was a good decision.
At 36-years-old, Dyson is coming off a split season with the Pirates and White Sox in 2020. Between the two teams, Dyson only played 32 games, and posted a 16 wRC+ and -0.3 WAR in 66 total plate appearances, according to Fangraphs. The career worsts in those marks did not surprise, as Dyson didn’t really fit on either club: he was an aging veteran on a Pirates team that was clearly in a rebuild; and he didn’t offer much offensive upside on a White Sox team that was known for mashing and hitting bombs on the offensive end.
While Dyson’s rough 2020 season was pretty atypical, and took place during a weird, COVID-shortened season, it is safe to say that the Royals will not be getting the player who last played with the Royals in 2016. While Dyson did posted a 2.1 fWAR and 86 wRC+ in 2017 with the Seattle Mariners, he has been in steady decline on the offensive end over the past three years, as he has posted wRC+ numbers of 48 and 68 with the Diamondbacks in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In fact, pretty much ALL of Dyson’s value has come from the baserunning and defensive end, as he has been 27.8 offensive runs below average, according to Fangraphs data, since leaving Kansas City.
Thankfully for Dyson, he has been excellent for the most part defensively and on the basepaths, as he has been 22.3 defensive runs above average, and 20.1 baserunning runs above average, both according to Fangraphs. Hence, it is not a surprise that the Royals would acquire Dyson for his services, with the primary idea of him being a backup outfielder who can be an important base runner and defender in the mid to late innings.
That being said, while Dyson’ cumulative defensive and baserunning metrics since 2017 paint a positive picture, his most recent numbers in those categories demonstrate some regression, which should worry Royals fans who are thinking that the Royals will be getting the player who donned the Royals uniform during those glory years from 2013-2016. After ranking in the top eight percent of the league in sprint speed at 29 feet per second in 2018, Dyson saw his sprint speed decline to 28.4 feet per second in 2019 and 26.9 feet per second in 2020, with the latter ranking him in the 52nd percentile according to Baseball Savant. In addition, Dyson also was 1.1 defensive runs BELOW average according to Fangraphs last year, and his outfielder jump ranked in the 30th percentile as well, according to Baseball Savant. While 2020 was a weird season, those aren’t exactly promising metrics that demonstrate that Dyson is necessarily a better backup outfielder option than Heath or Olivares.
In fact, let’s take a look at how Dyson rated last year against Heath and Olivares on a speed and defense end when it comes to more advanced metrics.
- Heath: -0.2 BsR; 1.1 Def; 76th percentile speed.
- Olivares: -0.3 BsR; -2.8 Def; 95th percentile speed.
- Dyson: 1.8 BsR; -1.1 Def; 52nd percentile speed.
Hence, based on what we see above, one can justify both ends of the spectrum when it comes to whether or not Dyson should be the fourth outfielder in Kansas City. For those who support Dyson, one can point to Dyson’s veteran presence, and his better base running history, as his 1.8 BsR was still substantially better than both Heath and Olivares last year. Furthermore, one could also argue that Dyson isn’t a long-term option by any means, and if Heath or Olivares prove themselves in Triple-A Omaha, then they could slide in and replace Dyson, especially if Dyson continues to carry over his regression into 2021.
On the flip side though, naysayers against the deal could justify that Dyson is only blocking Heath and Olivares from getting valuable reps at the big league level. Both guys are a decade or more younger than Dyson, and Royals fans who may be against this signing may believe that while Dyson’s return brings back some good memories, the Royals should be focusing on developing their younger players rather than trying to give guys near the end of their careers more innings and at-bats. Thus, it may make more sense to see if Olivares or Heath could perhaps be the next Dyson, rather than trotting out an older Dyson who is not the player Royals fans once remember.
So where do I stand on Dyson’s return to Kansas City? Well, I read Jack. S. Johnson’s piece on Royals Review, and I thought he made some valid points justifying Dyson’s return, especially in regard to speed and defense. This excerpt from his piece stuck out to me specifically:
Finding players with a history of winning has been a theme for Moore this offseason. He brought in Taylor, who was on the World Champion Washington Nationals in 2019. He signed Carlos Santana, who’s played in the postseason five times. Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Ervin Santana, have all felt the pressures of pitching in do-or-die moments. Dyson is no different.“Why signing Jarrod Dyson makes sense for the Royals” by Jack S. Johnson; Royals Review
Unfortunately, that’s where I deviate a little bit from the Dyson narrative. If the purpose was to simply get a speed and defensive-oriented fourth outfielder, then I could understand the signing. But as said before, while Heath is a little less proven, and has some contact and strikeout issues, I would rather give him a shot than a player who’s maybe got one more year left in him at the MLB level, maybe two tops. That being said, maybe Moore and the Royals have higher expectations for Heath and Olivares, and would like to see them get a full-time job and some more development in Omaha. If that’s the case, I can live with the Dyson signing, even if I may disagree with their projection (especially for Heath).
Unfortunately, I don’t really buy into the “clubhouse leadership” narrative as much. Is he going to help the clubhouse? Sure. But since leaving Kansas City, Dyson really hasn’t been on or contributed much to postseason teams, as he has played on the Mariners, Diamondbacks, and Pirates, all teams who did not make the playoffs between 2017 and 2019 (though the Diamondbacks did flirt with playoff hopes in 2019). As for his time on the White Sox, he joined the club mid-season, and was pretty much a non-factor on that club. And lastly, the Royals have brought in a lot of guys with playoff chops already this off-season: Wade Davis, Carlos Santana, Mike Minor, and even Michael A. Taylor all have more recent postseason experience recently than Dyson. How many more “playoff experienced leaders” do they really need in this clubhouse?
And I say this not to deter Dyson’s possible contributions, but rather keep the whole picture in perspective for Royals fans. The 2013-2015 clubs weren’t loading up on guys with “playoff experience”. Edinson Volquez was known for being a bust in the playoffs before arriving in KC. Kendrys Morales accumulated a negative WPA for the Angels in the postseason before coming to the Royals in 2015. Even Johnny Cueto was more known for this moment below than any success in October and November before making his way west to Kansas City:
The Royals found success for the most part in 2014 and 2015 because they trusted their player development, and trusted guys who were the best fit on the field, not because they had a bunch of “intangibles” off of it. Yes, those things have some importance, but at the end of the day, a baseball team has to play their best players to win games. Is Dyson one of the best 26 players in the Royals organization? I am not sure, but my gut says “no” and as said before, I’m not sure how much more “leadership” he’s going to bring to the Royals clubhouse that other “veterans” aren’t bringing already, unfortunately.
As a Royals fan who loved 2014 and 2015, Dyson’s return brings a bunch of feels to my Royals fandom. But as a current Royals baseball fan, who is looking to 2021, this deal feels unnecessary and an overplay by Moore after what has been a promising and exciting off-season. Two years ago, I would’ve been okay with this. But now? The Royals have better and younger internal options who could provide more upside.
Maybe I’ll be wrong…and if I am, and Dyson helps this team turn the corner, I’ll definitely eat crow on this take.
But the Royals need to be not just looking into 2021, but beyond as well.
And I’m not sure how Dyson necessarily helps the Royals do that.
(Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)