Free Agent Fit: Does Jarrod Dyson make sense for the Blue Jays?

Jarrod Dyson. (Eric Christian Smith/AP)

During the off-season we’ll be taking a closer look at some potential free agent targets for the Toronto Blue Jays. Today it’s Jarrod Dyson…

Jarrod Dyson | Age: 33
Position: CF
Bats: Left | Throws: Right
2017 stats: 111 G | .251/.324/.350 | 5 HR | 2.6 WAR | 28 SB | 28 BB, 55 K

MLB Trade Rumors signing prediction
Two years, $12 million, Pirates

Why he’s a potential fit for the Blue Jays
Dyson’s an exceptional defender with the ability to play centre and plenty of recent experience in both corner spots. He’d help keep runs off the board whether the Blue Jays needed him to give Kevin Pillar a breather in centre, start in a corner or enter late as a defensive replacement.

The speed that makes Dyson an elite defender allows him to create value on the bases, too. Even at age 33, he’s faster than 93 per cent of major-league players, as measured by Statcast. That led to 28 steals in 35 attempts in 2017, his sixth consecutive season with 25-plus steals. Based on his speed and defence, you could make a compelling case that he’s every bit as valuable as Billy Hamilton with far less fanfare.

At the plate, Dyson hits right-handers well enough to start against them and his struggles against lefties could be concealed in a platoon with a right-handed hitter like Steve Pearce. And while some players bristle at the idea of coming off the bench, Dyson has had regular rest throughout his career, never starting 100 times or accruing 400 plate appearances in a season. As a role player, he wouldn’t block the path of Teoscar Hernandez or Anthony Alford, outfield prospects who could make an impact at the MLB level in 2018.

A couple of soft factors play in his favour, too. Dyson has extensive playoff experience from the Royals’ World Series runs and remains beloved in Kansas City. Plus, manager John Gibbons knows him from their days in Kansas City and has since admired his play from afar.

All things considered, Dyson has been worth 2.2 wins above replacement in each of the last four seasons. He fits the Blue Jays’ roster without blowing up their payroll. GM Ross Atkins signed Pearce to a two-year, $12.5-million contract last off-season, and if Dyson’s available on a similar deal, the Blue Jays would do well to sign him.

Why he might not be a fit for the Blue Jays
The argument against Dyson comes down to two shortcomings: he doesn’t hit all that well, and his game depends on speed that could diminish as he enters his mid-30s.

Dyson doesn’t hit for power, as evidenced by the fact that he has just 12 home runs in 661 career games. It’s not just that he doesn’t go deep, either; 93 per cent of players make more hard contact, as measured by Statcast. His struggles are particularly acute against left-handed pitching (.551 OPS), so he could get exposed if he’s asked to do too much. In parts of eight seasons at the MLB level, Dyson has a .258/.325/.352 slash line.

Much of the offence that Dyson does generate comes from his legs, but speed doesn’t generally age well. Interested teams will have to determine how his legs will hold up in 2018 and 2019 because his defence, baserunning and offence will all suffer if he loses a step or two.

It’s also worth noting that Dyson missed considerable time down the stretch due to injury. A right groin strain sidelined him in late August and he didn’t play after Sept. 2 because of a sports hernia-like injury that required surgery.

The latest Dyson buzz
Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported in November that the Mariners would like to bring Dyson back, but they have since been linked to Jon Jay, which could mean Dyson ends up elsewhere in 2018.

While the outfield market hasn’t picked up just yet, Dyson could eventually draw plenty of interest. In his annual look at the top potential free agent bargains of the off-season, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs argued that “contenders should be lining up to add him to their outfield mix.”