It’s no secret that the New York Yankees are looking for outfield help on this year’s trade market. With the Aug. 1 deadline approaching, an interesting rumor has surfaced.
Per Yankees beat veteran Mark Feinsand, the Bronx Bombers are interested in Dylan Carlson of the St. Louis Cardinals. The switch-hitting Carlson is still just 24 and batting .241 with five home runs and a .725 OPS in 2023. He can also play all three outfield positions and his arm strength is in the 86th percentile.
The Cardinals also seem motivated to make a deal. As Feinsand reports, Carlson is about to lose his spot in the lineup to the injury-prone Tyler O’Neill. And all because O’Neill apparently has more potential as a home run hitter.
So why would the Yankees want Carlson? He hit 18 home runs as a rookie in 2021 but only has 13 since. Why would the Yankees want him at all? Especially with the whole lineup struggling already.
The answer is fairly simple, taking a look at Carlson’s BaseballSavant page. The common theme is that despite his potential as a hitter, he hasn’t made consistent hard contact until this year. And even then, his hard hit rate is only in the 39th percentile.
But also, at the same time, it’s not as though Carlson makes too much soft contact. Even at a 17.3% mark when he regressed last year, that’s not an inordinate amount. Cody Bellinger, for example, has hit for 21% soft contact this season. His hard contact is in the seventh percentile. Teams are still interested.
Carlson’s issue, rather, is simpler. He’s stuck in the middle and the Cardinals are ready to cut bait. Does a move to “toxic” New York even make sense?
Digging a little deeper, it’s very possible. Carlson got a steady diet of fastballs in 149 games in 2021, 1,368 to be exact, and has seen less ever since. It doesn’t matter that Carlson has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Pitchers are still throwing him more offspeed and breaking pitches, and he’s struggling.
For context, Carlson’s run value against the changeup last year was an awful -5. In 2023, it’s a clean 0.
All this to say that from 2020-2022, Dylan Carlson had Jeff Albert as his hitting coach in St. Louis. Albert came up through the Cardinals system, but didn’t become a name until joining the Astros and their three-true-outcomes/analytical approach in 2018. He then returned to St. Louis as the hitting coach in 2019.
This accounts for Carlson’s success against the fastball as a youngster. Albert was probably just teaching him to recognize a pitch he could drive and turn on it. That philosophy doesn’t really work for teaching how to hit breaking pitches. And even with the Cardinals now employing former outfielder and coaching veteran Turner Ward in Albert’s old job, Ward clearly prefers O’Neill.
New Yankees hitting coach Sean Casey, on the other hand, might. We’ve already discussed how the Yankees hiring him could signal seismic changes across all of baseball. What if Carlson is, for lack of better word, his guinea pig?
It makes sense. The numbers above indicate Carlson could indeed be overcompensating for power. It’s also worth noting that Ward adjusted and tightened his swing for more hard contact.
Casey’s job, by comparison, would be to help Carlson either recapture his power or at least find a balance between power and contact. He made an 11-year MLB career out of doing just that and retired with a .302 lifetime batting average and 130 home runs. Not a Hall of Famer, but definitely not a bad hitter by any means.
At best, the Yankees get Carlson for cheap, stick him in left field and keep him around for a few years until Jasson Dominguez or Spencer Jones is ready. Bat aside, he’ll be a better outfield glove than Jake Bauers. At worst, he’s Aaron Hicks but without the albatross contract, and can thus be non-tendered in the winter.
Given the season slipping away, Brian Cashman has nothing to lose. A trade for Dylan Carlson would at least make it seem like the Yankees are trying to salvage 2023.
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