In their second trade of the offseason the Royals dealt speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners for starting pitcher Nate Karns, first reported by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Dyson was drafted in the 50th round (a round that no longer even exists) in 2006 and has been with the organization his entire career. He made his big league debut in 2010 and has a career line of .260/.325/.353 with 176 stolen bases in 206 attempts. His best offensive season came in 2016 when he hit .278/.340/.388 with 23 extra base hits. He put up 1.3 WARP last year and has accumulated 7.9 WARP over the last five seasons. He’s been extremely valuable.
Karns now looks like he’ll slot in as the fifth starter for the Royals, at least to open the season, and he could have some success in that role. In 2015, he appeared in 27 games for the Rays with 26 coming as starts and went 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA and a 1.279 WHIP. He struck out roughly a batter per inning with 3.4 walks per nine. After being moved to Seattle last year, he struggled with an ERA over 5.00, but he did strike out more hitters. His walk rate rose, though, as did his hits per nine inning.
Karns throws a fastball in the 93-94 MPH range and mixes in a curve, sinker and changeup as well. In his career, he’s been better against lefties than righties, so he has a bit of a reverse split there. He hasn’t been given much opportunity to get deep into games, averaging just over 16 outs per start in his career, but some of that may be attributed to being with the Rays who are notorious for getting pitchers out of the game sooner rather than later.
He’s not an exceptional pitcher, but he’s certainly someone who can slot in a rotation and give the Royals some hopefully quality starts to help fill out a pitching staff. He doesn’t get a ton of ground balls, but he’s also not horrible in that regard. He doesn’t get hit all that hard, so some of the hits that fell in last season might be able to be reduced by pitching in front of the excellent Royals defense. One big thing about Karns is that he’s under team control through the 2020 season, which means he isn’t even arbitration eligible until the 2018 season, so he comes at a very reasonable cost.
He was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 12th round of the 2009 draft and was actually very good in the minors for the most part until his stint in Triple-A Durham during the 2014 season. One constant for him has been strikeouts, so if the Royals can get him throwing a few more strikes, that may be something that could unlock a number three starter rather than four/five guy he currently is.
Of course, giving up Dyson is difficult as he’s been there for so many of the big moments in recent memory.
Maybe Dyson’s most famous moment came at a pivotal time during the Wild Card Game in 2014. With the Royals trailing 7-6 in the ninth inning, Dyson was on second base, having pinch ran for Josh Willingham. He took off for third with one out and was successful in stealing the base, which led him to doing the Yung Joc Dance to celebrate. That might be one of the most used gifs on the internet when it comes to Royals fans. He eventually scored the run to tie the game, and you know what happened next.
Over the years, Dyson had developed into an important cog in the Royals machine. Whether it was taking over on defense for a lesser outfielder late in games, filling in for injured players or just pinch running at the most important times, Dyson always had a big role on this team. While Dyson isn’t an offensive juggernaut, everything else he brings to the table is what helped him fit in a reserve role on the Royals so well. Defensively, he’s one of the game’s best center fielders, and it seems that he’ll have the opportunity to play every day in Seattle and show off his defensive skills more than he could with the Royals with Lorenzo Cain in the way.
Personally, I’m not in love with this move, but I get it because four years of control of a starting pitcher is a big deal. The Royals do have Billy Burns, who is sort of similar to Dyson in that they both play outfield and they’re both fast. The problem is that Burns isn’t especially good at anything Dyson is. I think the bats might be somewhat comparable, but Burns doesn’t have the plate discipline Dyson does. He’s not a very good defender, and he isn’t a great base runner, in spite of his speed.
That doesn’t mean he can’t be valuable to the Royals in 2017 and beyond, but it’s to say that I believe the Royals got worse in their outfield situation. With the earlier acquisition of Jorge Soler, I believe Dyson was actually an even better fit as he could have played center field against righties with Soler DHing much of the time and only playing the outfield against lefties when Dyson sat.
It hasn’t been an eventful offseason for the Royals, though they’ve now sent two of their postseason heroes to different teams with an eye on the next great Royals team. With these moves, hopefully the Royals can continue to push for a playoff berth in 2017 and improve their fortunes in the years beyond.