On Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals had their fans feeling nostalgic, once again. After four years apart, the Royals brought back outfielder Jarrod Dyson on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. The 36-year-old spent last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox — where he slashed .180/.231/.180 with six stolen bases in 32 games.
From an outside perspective, the addition of Dyson may not seem significant. However, there are a few reasons as to why the reunion makes sense for the Royals.
Dyson is not coming in to compete for a starting job in the outfield. Instead, he’s better suited as the club’s fourth outfielder with a chance to impact the game late with his legs on the bases or defense. His best attribute, however, may come in the form of leadership.
During the postseason runs in 2014 and 2015, the Royals embraced an identity that made them tough to compete with. They had attitude, confidence, and swagger — molding them into a team that was exhilarating to root for, but infuriating to lose to.
As for Dyson, he had all three of those traits and then some.
In the American League Championship Series in 2014, Kansas City returned home after taking the first two games from the Orioles in Baltimore. With three games ahead of them at Kauffman Stadium, Dyson was asked if the series would return to Baltimore for Game 6 and 7.
“No, sir, I don’t,” Dyson said. “And I don’t think [the Orioles] think that, either.”
For a team like the 2021 Royals — hoping for the chance to contend in the postseason — flare and personality can be infectious. Oftentimes, it’s the juice that keeps the three-game losing streaks from turning into six games. It can also turn the two-game winning streaks into seven. It’s why the Royals added Josh Willingham and Raúl Ibañez in 2014 and Jonny Gomes in 2015.
More importantly, Dyson brings 21 games worth of postseason experience to the roster.
Experience on the basepaths
I’m sure the main question on Royals fans’ minds is why the Royals would sign a player in his late-30s when rookie Nick Heath is nine years younger with elite speed? Well, the Royals have made it clear that giving at-bats to their younger players is important. If Heath or Edward Olivares were to make the roster, it’s possible they wouldn’t see any playing time other than pinch-running and filling in as defensive replacements. The organization might view the two as players that need everyday at-bats in the minor leagues.
Dyson, on the other hand, is at the back-end of his career. Finding him at-bats every week isn’t something that manager Mike Matheny is going to lose sleep over. Where Dyson can provide value, though, is being exactly who he was for the 2014-15 Royals. If you’re wondering if he still has the same burst as the good ol’ days, see for yourself.
There’s more to stealing bases than relying on your speed. It comes down to timing, dissecting the pitcher’s movements and picking the right pitch to go on. Dyson, who has 256 career stolen bases, has mastered all of it. In 2020, he was a perfect 6-for-6 on stolen base attempts. The year before, he swiped 30 bags in 34 attempts
The move doesn’t close the book on Heath’s or Olivares’s time in Kansas City, either. In fact, it’s more than likely the two will be on the club at some point this season. But with the Royals trying to avoid a brutal start in April, having Dyson’s experience early on may be more valuable.
Value on defense
With Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor, and Whit Merrifield all being reliable defenders, the Royals aren’t going to need Dyson’s versatility in the outfield every night. However, there are going to be games where Jorge Soler starts in right field and Matheny will be hesitant to replace him with another starter. Having Dyson’s defensive skillset fills that need.
In 2020, Dyson had the second-highest success rate added (5%) among center fielders with a minimum of 25 attempts— one spot behind former Gold Glove-winner Jackie Bradley Jr. (6%). In 2019, Dyson was 23rd among outfielders in Outs Above Average with six — tying him with Adam Engel, Randal Grichuk, and Juan Soto.
Dyson’s familiarity with the depth of Kauffman Stadium bodes well for him, too. Having played in Kansas City for seven years, Dyson won’t need any time adjusting to his surroundings.
He fits the narrative Dayton Moore is pushing
It’s one thing to win at the major league level, it’s another to do it the way the Royals did. Dyson was in the thick of it — playing on 90-loss teams from 2010-12 to pennant-winning clubs in 2013-15. He’s played in meaningless September games in front of 10,000 fans and sold-out crowds in the World Series.
Finding players with a history of winning has been a theme for Moore this offseason. He brought in Taylor, who was on the World Champion Washington Nationals in 2019. He signed Carlos Santana, who’s played in the postseason five times. Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Ervin Santana, have all felt the pressures of pitching in do-or-die moments. Dyson is no different.
The Royals didn’t sign Dyson to make fans feel nostalgic about the success in the past. Instead, they’re trying to recreate that success with him by their side, again.
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