MASN Sports’ Roch Kubatko reported over the weekend that Buck Showalter said the Orioles have targeted a specific free agent right fielder and have discussed contract details and health information with him.
A left-handed hitting outfielder to man right field and be able to backup in center has been on the team’s wish list all off-season. And now with spring training just four weeks out, the tepid hot stove talk may finally be warming up.
Kubatko reports his sources confirm the team has looked at Jarrod Dyson’s medical records. Dan Duquette could be eyeing the 33-year-old speedster to apply his career .332 OBP versus right-handed pitchers at the top of the order and give rookie Austin Hays more time to develop.
Dyson’s ability to steal bases could bring an exciting new element to a team that usually waits for the three-run homer instead of manufacturing runs. His 28 steals ranked him seventh in the A.L. last year, after finishing in the top five the previous three. Dyson stole 184 stolen bases from 2012-2017 – good for third in the league during that span. And he doesn’t get caught often, reaching safely at an 85 percent career clip.
This move could also help to address the Orioles’ declining defense – another area the team has admitted it wants to improve. According to Fangraphs, Dyson’s Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (UZR/150) – which measures defensive runs saved above average – is an impressive 19.4, in large measure due to his very strong arm.
Dyson has primarily played center field his whole career, due to his speed and range. He’s actually only played right field a couple dozen times, but he should be able to make that adjustment.
If the Orioles do sign Dyson, it might actually make more sense to put him in center and move Adam Jones to right on the days Dyson starts. Jones’ career UZR/150 is -3.5 – a number that has dipped dramatically over the past two years when it was -9.9 and -14.4, respectively.
But I wouldn’t expect Captain America to relinquish the role of center fielder anytime soon. But, in either case, Dyson would be a good addition.
However, if Dyson is not the outfielder the Birds are courting, who else could it be?
Curtis Granderson was one name bandied about who fit the LH hitting, RF with CF option bill, but he signed a one-year $5 million deal with the Blue Jays. Another possibility, Leonys Martin, inked a one-year contract for $1.75 million with the Tigers.
The Orioles had been linked to still-available slugger Carlos Gonzalez, but his center field days are behind him. Plus, the Orioles might be better served to add a top-of-the-order type – maybe even a leadoff hitter. Dyson could do that. CarGo could not.
Colby Rasmus voluntarily left the Rays last July after appearing in just 37 games, dealing with a slow recovery after hip surgery. He certainly couldn’t be a candidate to pass the Orioles’ tough health standards.
Michael Saunders is a free agent. But aside from a terrific first half of the 2016 season that resulted in an All-Star appearance, he hasn’t been productive at all since 2014 due to a variety of injuries and failing skills.
But don’t count out Jon Jay, who the Orioles were said to have inquired about earlier in the off-season. Jay, who turns 33 in March, has a career slash line of .288/.355/.383 – compared to Dyson’s .258/.325/.352. He’s a line-drive hitter with no real power or speed.
However, Jay has hit for a batting average of at least .276 in seven of his eight big-league seasons, and, unlike Dyson, hits lefties almost as well right-handed pitchers (.746/.712 OPS). Jay has played center field for most of his career – all in the National League with the Cardinals, Padres and the Cubs.
But the defense is where he pales in comparison to Dyson. Jay has a terrible arm, resulting in a very average 0.1 career UZR/150. That’s a red flag for a right fielder where it helps to have a cannon out there.
Jay’s health may be of greater concern than Dyson’s as well. He missed 79 days in 2015 with wrist issues and another 70 in 2016 after he broke his arm. Dyson, on the other hand, has been on the DL just twice (oblique strain and groin) in the last four years for a total of just 29 days.
Given these two choices – and assuming similar price tags – I’d rather see the Orioles sign Dyson. Especially with the lack of any real progress thus far this off-season, it’s refreshing to think of how a scary stolen-base threat could breathe some life in this offense – especially during those stretches when their long swings lead to long slumps.