Forgive me for making this argument once again, but it has to be done. There aren’t many realistic options available on the trade market for the New York Yankees, but Dylan Carlson is one of them. The St. Louis Cardinals are not a good baseball team, but they have a bunch of good outfielders. There are some outfielders on the team who they can use to flip to strengthen other parts of their roster, specifically their pitching.
Of those outfielders on their team, Lars Nootbaar and Jordan Walker seem to be the most immovable. Walker is a top-10 prospect in the middle of a solid rookie season. He is a core piece who will be a key player on the next good Cardinals team (possibly even in 2024). He is not an option. Next, there is Nootbaar. Like Walker, Nootbaar has very little service time. He will start his arbitration years in 2025. It’s not likely he is an option to be sold off. Don’t get me wrong, this is the exact type of bat the Yankees would be interested in acquiring, but that is more than a pipe dream.
Then there is jack of all trades, Tommy Edman. He is really the only viable center fielder on this roster. He is a masterful infielder, but this team’s roster is most demanding of a guy who can glove it in center, and it seems he is trending more in that direction for the team. He began playing there regularly before going on the IL last week. With their top prospect, Masyn Winn, as the shortstop in Triple-A, Edman’s move to center field would be nicely timed.
That brings us back to Carlson. He wasn’t an everyday player while Walker, Nootbaar, and Edman were all healthy. As a former top-20 prospect who is still only 24 years old, he needs to be in a place that gives him a full opportunity to be successful and not be shuffled in and off the bench depending on who is healthy. He is in his final pre-arbitration year and will be under team control through 2026. In other words, if the Yankees could acquire him, they would have his services for a little less than 3.5 years.
Now, it’s important to address the elephant in the room: Carlson’s career performance. He has been the definition of average since his entry into the league. He has a 103 career wRC+ with slightly above average fielding. To be clear, the expectations were higher for him. It’s not common for a 22 year old switch hitter to post a 113 wRC+ in their rookie year, but Carlson did it. That’s a line you see from an emerging star. But in 2022, his wRC+ dropped to 100; this year, it’s 103. He isn’t a big slugger, but his 18 home run power disappeared. He isn’t a good hitter from the more advantageous left side, and it hurts his overall profile.
But you know what? The Yankees have the fifth worst (84 wRC+) left field offensive production in all of baseball. So much of staying afloat through rough times is about getting average – not terrible – production. This team could very desperately use an average switch hitter who is a good, reliable defensive outfielder. Sounds a bit like what we were all hoping Oswaldo Cabrera would be.
All that said, and I haven’t even addressed Carlson’s potential in Yankee Stadium. We’ve seen it with lefty bats such as Andrew Benintendi, Jake Bauers, and even Billy McKinney, but there is a real knack for helping lefties get more lift in their profile to cater to the favorable dimensions in right field. Like Benintendi, Carlson is not a basher. He has middling exit velocities and only a .364 xwOBACON. However, he is a career .312 hitter with a 140 wRC+ from the right side. The physical abilities are there, but the team needs to help him get that same lift from the left side as he can with the right.
As seen in the clip above, Carlson definitely has the ability, but this year, he is running a 53.1-percent ground-ball rate as a lefty. That is not good and not sustainable for a hitter who doesn’t hit the ball all that hard.
When we zero in on pull-side batted balls as a lefty, it gets even more sad. On the year, he has 46 pulled batted balls as a left handed hitter. That is a little over a third of all his lefty batted balls – a fine rate. The issue here is that only four (8.7 percent) of these batted balls can be categorized as fly balls. As a not-so-hard hitter, you have to hit the ball in the air to the pull side (or oppo, but that is significantly more difficult). Funny enough, two of his four fly balls to the pull side as a lefty have left the park! Both were hit over 101 mph and with launch angles between 30 and 38.
Any team that can help Carlson get this back into his game will reap the rewards. As a comparison, when Carlson had a good rookie season, 16 percent of his pull-side batted balls were hit in the air. That is pretty much the difference between being average and about 10 percent better than average. There are other hitters in the game who get by with this approach, including Isaac Paredes of the Rays. He has 16 home runs on the season despite a 19th percentile average exit velocity. He pulls the ball in the air down the line consistently, and it works for him. It’s a combination of picking the right pitch and having a bat path catered to it.
Now, whether the Yankees believe this is something Carlson can fix on the fly is another story, but if there is confidence there, then it’s more than worth a shot. The team has depth in the middle infield in the minors in addition to their carousel of great minor league pitching development. The Cardinals could access both to retool for next year while not losing a key piece of their outfield. And at worst, even if Carlson can’t make this adjustment, the Yankees have themselves an average player. That is something that would be of great benefit to them! We’ll see what happens, but I’m on board with bringing in another Cardinals’ outfielder at the deadline.