By: Blake Tarrants
Tough breaks are a way of life. Bad things happen at the worst of times. Pick your cliché; a Grade II strain to the oblique muscle was the last thing Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson needed. That, however, was the news reported by Manager Ned Yost to reporters in Surprise, Ariz. At Royals spring training on Thursday.
Dyson suffered the injury in the Royals Cactus-League opener on Wednesday during his first AB and left after two innings. According to Yost, Dyson could miss anywhere from 4-6 weeks, but six is more likely, both because Yost said so, and because the Royals training staff, as highly regarded as they are for keeping a guy like Lorenzo Cain, a magnet for strains and soreness early in his career, healthy over the past two seasons, are naturally conservative and avoid rushing any player back onto the field. This means that Dyson will probably start the 2016 regular season on the DL, and may not be fully healthy until the end of April or beginning of May.
This could not have happened at a worse time for Dyson, 31, who was expected to get his first real chance at cracking an everyday starting lineup this season as the Royals right fielder. The next two years are huge for him, as like many of the Royals current players, Dyson is eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. The speedy Dyson, who has 146 career steals, but just six career homers and a mere .211 career batting average against lefties, might have missed his window of opportunity. It is no secret that Dayton Moore, general manager of the Royals, wanted to give Dyson a shot at starting this year, but fans and journalists alike know that if the Royals are in the same position this June or July as they were in 2015, they will be buyers on the trade market, and right field will be their primary spot to upgrade.
Consider that Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce, who is probably the most affordable and effective trade candidate because of his pending free agency and mere $12.5 million salary, a bargain for a power-hitting outfielder today, was nearly traded to Toronto two weeks ago. KC knows it is racing against time on two fronts now. Except for sophomore Paulo Orlando, they now have no other healthy outfielders on their roster except for left fielder Alex Gordon and center fielder Lorenzo Cain who have played a game for them in the bigs.
The Johnny Cueto trade last July likely would make the Reds willing to deal with the Royals again. Worst of all for Dyson, his blazing speed, low 2016 salary (just over $1.7 million) and inconsistent bat make him a perfect bench player. Moore may have been prepared to give Dyson a chance to start because of his home-grown nature—he was drafted in the 50th round in 2006 by the Royals—and because of his outstanding defense, but this injury will prevent Dyson from showing what he can do as a starter in April when the stakes are low. It seems very unlikely that Moore will allow a bunch of rookies like prospects Jose Martinez and Bubba Starling to try to hold down the position every day, and then hand it off to a player who has never hit lefties and whose primary skill, speed, typically starts to decline as players age into their 30s. Most coaches would tell you that a player doesn’t lose a job to injury, but we may have just witnessed that very event.