Yankees could buy low on Cardinals lottery ticket outfielder

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are going to need some help in center field, and with a free-agent class that’s weaker than most, the Bronx Bombers are going to need to be creative in order to improve their offense. One of the biggest holes for the Yankees in recent years has been their lack of switch-hitting and left-handed hitting, and it culminated in a 2023 season where the team finished as one of the 10 worst offenses in the sport against righties.

Is Dylan Carlson a game-changer for this lineup? Most likely not, but the high-upside and high floor, due to his excellent defensive tools and prospect status, could allow him to develop into a solid centerfielder with an offensive skillset the team sorely needs. The St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees shape up as natural fits to make a trade following a disappointing season for both teams, but is Dylan Carlson the right for for this team?

The Right Type of Lottery Ticket for the Yankees

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs, dylan carlson, yankees
May 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dylan Carlson (3) hits an RBI single against the Chicago Cubs during the second inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Carlson put up a measly 84 wRC+ in a disappointing and injury-riddled season, and while I don’t believe that he’s going to live up to the elite prospect status he once had, he certainly can be an okay hitter in a brand-new environment in the Bronx, which would be much more favorable for a left-handed hitter (or any in general) compared to Busch Stadium. Over his career, he has a 99 wRC+ and .717 OPS, with his 2021 season being his best as a professional when he put up a 111 wRC+ and .343 OBP, but he took a step back in 2022, settling into an average bat with plus defense and speed.

The Yankees are a team with a track record of success when it comes to getting more power out of hitters, and with Carlson topping out at 109.1 MPH for his Max Exit Velocity, the Yankees could see if they can get him to reach the upper percentiles of his raw power at a higher frequency, even if it comes at the cost of a few extra whiffs. Right field is an enticing part of the ballpark for left-handed hitters, and with bats like Jake Bauers and Billy McKinney putting up better slugging numbers than in years past with the organization, perhaps Carlson can unlock that power as well.

His swing decisions are already excellent, with a 28.6% O-Swing% and 71.1% Z-Swing% ranking as better than average, which means that he swings at strikes and lays off of pitches out of the zone and that pitch recognition creates a strong foundation to develop more power from. Carlson’s 9.3% Swinging Strike% would also suggest that he can sacrifice a bit of contact for power to balance out his approach. His best season in terms of OPS came with his highest strikeout and whiff rate, although both marks were not problematic that season.

  • 2021: 24.6% K% (.780 OPS)
  • 2022: 19.3% K% (.695 OPS)
  • 2023: 19.2% (.651 OPS)

Carlson seems to have sacrificed the quality of contact for a higher quantity of contact, something that’s hurt his overall profile at the plate and has also damaged his BABIP and ISO numbers, affecting his average and overall slash line. His xwOBACON plummeted from an above-average .383 to a paltry .338 in 2023, and the Yankees could present the change in scenery necessary for the 24-year-old outfielder to excel next season.

(On the left is his 2021 swing, and on the right is his 2023 swing)

You can notice a much more aggressive load on the left and a much more controlled leg kick on the right, with a more compact swing and less violent “intention,” for a lack of better words. Could the Yankees get Carlson, who plays in a less power-friendly ballpark, to try to chase a bit more power and torque in his swing again? Jake Bauers and Billy McKinney were mentioned earlier, and while many remember them as just roster fodder, the Yankees got legitimate production out of both of them at times due to massive spikes in their quality of contact.

Bauers had a career .350 xwOBACON in his career before a .490 xwOBACON with the Yankees this past season, and Billy McKinney went from a sub-.360 xwOBACON hitter to a .429 with the Yankees this past season, and the Yankees as a whole have always done well with getting more pop out of hitters, especially left-handed ones. After posting a .357 xwOBACON in 2021, the Yankees got Anthony Rizzo to pull the ball in the air more and increase that mark to .374, and while it’s certainly risky to try and get that kind of leap out of an outfielder with a spotty track record, its certainly worth exploring.

We know the Yankees had interest in Carlson at the deadline, and while it’s unclear whether the Yankees are going to dive back into that pool, it could prove fruitful offensively as his issues align with things the organization develops well. With that being said, where does he fit, and what would it take to get him?

The Right Match for Two Struggling Teams

St. Louis desperately needs swing-and-miss arms, and with Yoendrys Gomez out of MiLB options, he profiles as somebody the Yankees could dangle for a bat like Carlson’s. Jordan Walker and Lars Nootbaar have emerged as pieces of the future in St. Louis, with Tommy Edman and Tyler O’Neill serving as veteran options to fill in the outfield as well. They also have Brendan Donovan, who is one of the premier utilitymen in the sport and has experience in the outfield as well.

Gomez is one of the Yankees’ newly promoted arms with swing-and-miss stuff, and paired with another flyer like Clayton Beeter, the Yankees could ship off two arms that need to be on their 40-Man Roster next year for a bat they believe in, like Carlson’s. It remains to be seen what the price will look like for the switch-hitting outfielder, but if he were to come to the Bronx, he’d profile really well for centerfield. His +5 DRS and +6 OAA in a little over 1,100 innings in centerfield should allow his glove to play well enough to hold the fort down in the absence of Jasson Dominguez.

Carlson alone wouldn’t be enough to fix the Yankees’ offensive woes, but they could view him as a bottom-of-the-order bat who graduates into a greater role if he can make the strides I’ve laid out as possible. Put up a 111 wRC+ and .343 OBP again? Suddenly, the Yankees lineup gets a lot deeper, but if he’s more like his 2022 self (99 wRC+, .316 OBP), he’ll serve as an acceptable nine-hitter who adds some much-needed balance to their lineup.

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