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Yankees Potential Trade Target: Dylan Carlson

Injuries over the past two seasons add significant risk to a pursuit of the Cardinals outfielder.

St. Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

This offseason for the Yankees will be defined by their pursuit of starting pitching and outfield reinforcements. They are linked to the names at the top of those respective markets, with rumors continuing to swirl around their interest in Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Juan Soto, and Cody Bellinger.

Should they whiff on the latter two targets, the quality of remaining outfield options drops off precipitously. That certainly applies to Dylan Carlson and his case as a viable candidate to bolster the Yankees outfield.

2023 Statistics: 76 games, 255 PA, .219/.318/.333, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 84 wRC+, +2 Outs Above Average, 0.2 fWAR

2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 58 games, 252 PA, .257/.343/.421, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 111 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR

Contract Status: Projected to earn $2.1 million in first of three years of arbitration eligibility. Free agent following 2026 season.

Carlson broke out in an impressive sophomore campaign in 2021 that saw him launch 18 home runs and finish with a 111 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 149 games. There are pluses and minuses to his offensive profile — on one hand he doesn’t make particularly great contact but on the other hand, he’s a switch-hitter who places in the top quartile in the league at avoiding chasing out of the zone. At the very least, he would provide a different look from many of the hitters in the Yankees lineup.

Despite dropping into league-average territory at the plate in 2022, Carlson still managed to replicate his two-and-a-half wins from a year prior by flipping the narrative on his defensive capabilities, finishing with +3 OAA including four in centerfield. He’s got roughly league average sprint speed and admittedly poor initial jumps on fly balls, but more than makes up for it with one of the strongest outfield arms in the league and by taking some of the most efficient routes of any big league outfielder.

No discussion of Carlson would be complete without mentioning the concerning string of recent injuries. He missed multiple stretches at the beginning and end of the 2022 season with hamstring and thumb ailments. Then came the big ones — a left oblique strain and persistent left ankle injuries which ultimately required season-ending ankle surgery to remove bone spurs and perform arthroscopic repair. The expected recovery timetable of two to three months should have Carlson available for spring training.

2023 should have been the year that saw Carlson grab the full time center field job with both hands with Harrison Bader out of the picture, but his body just couldn’t hold up. There were still some positive developments when he did take to the field, as he sat comfortably in the top 30 percent league-wide in both strikeout and walk rates among batters with at least 250 plate appearances. However, given the injury absences and degradation of the hit tool, it’s fair to question whether he merits consideration for a starting job at this point. Interestingly, FanGraphs projects a return to form in 2024, though it’s also important to note they expect him to miss over half of the season whether due to recovery from the ankle surgery or getting squeezed out by better options in the St. Louis outfield.

As for Carlson’s availability, he should be obtainable for the same reasons I discussed yesterday when evaluating teammate Brendan Donovan’s trade candidacy. Just as the St. Louis infield is facing a potential logjam, their outfield is an even more crowded situation. Lars Nootbaar, Tyler O’Neill, and recently-graduated top prospect Jordan Walker figure to lock down the three starting jobs with Alec Burleson knocking on the door. Depending on how his ankle rehab goes, Carlson could find himself relegated to fifth outfielder and even potentially without a spot on the major league roster.

With another year of service time under his belt, Carlson is due for a raise relative to Donovan, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting a $2.1 million salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. That elevated payroll number, the one less year of team control, and his more extensive injury history combine such that it would require significantly less to pry him from St. Louis than Donovan. It makes me nervous to think about a scenario in which the Yankees consider one or both of these players as a plug-and-play candidate for next season. We have seen how many times depending on oft-injured players for full time roles has come back to bite the organization. Instead, adding Carlson should be the type of supplemental depth-boosting move you make after securing your full-time outfielder elsewhere on the free agent or trade market.