The Rockies delivered one of the most surprise non-tenders of the week in David Dahl. The young outfielder should be the St. Louis Cardinals’ prime target.
The St. Louis Cardinals need offensive consistency and the outfield is one place they have room to get more of it. The way this roster is built right now, there are more than enough right-handed hitting outfielders to go around.
Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and Austin Dean all have the potential for consistency at the plate but haven’t been able to show it in the time they have gotten to this point. Multiple times this offseason, John Mozeliak has mentioned that offensive consistency in the outfield needs to improve, signaling that this is likely an area they will be adding at least something to.
On Wednesday, an already-flooded market of affordable outfielders got even more attractive as teams around the MLB decided whether or not to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. While many names became available, the most intruiging of the names added to free agency was David Dahl.
If you aren’t familiar with Dahl, it’s likely because he has spent the majority of his career to this point on the injured list. In the MLB for four seasons since his debut in 2016, Dahl has played just 264 career major league games. His ailments include hamstring issues, a fractured foot, a back issue due to a stress reaction in his rib, shoulder injury, and spleen removal.
While that might scare some fans away, some would argue that his injury history only brings down the price on a player who could be a perennial All-Star. With one trip to the mid-summer classic under his belt, he has yet to have a season in which he played in at least 25 games where he had an OPS under .850.
In 240 games between 2016 and 2019, Dahl slashed .297/.346/.521 with 38 homers and 133 RBI. That averages out to 25 bombs a year and an .867 OPS. Focusing on his All-Star campaign in 2019, Dahl had a career-best .877 OPS on the strength of a .524 slugging percentage in 100 games. His 15 homers and 61 RBI don’t scream middle of the order bat, but he hits a ton of doubles.
All the underlying statistics about Dahl’s 2019 suggest it was well earned on that strong hard hit percentage. From the left side of the batter’s box Dahl doesn’t walk much, he strikes out on-average 26% of the time, too. Even without a propensity to walk a ton, he finds ways to get on base and has a little bit of speed on the basepaths.
Dahl’s career defensive numbers show an average to slightly above-average left fielder, even if he isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind with his play out there.
Some would worry that all of Dahl’s numbers and success has occurred because he played at Coors Field. A career home-road split of a .918 OPS and home and .722 OPS on the road doesn’t help that narrative. However, there have been plenty of players who succeeded more at the plate after they left Coors. It has been argued that rather than players benefiting from the ball traveling further at Coors, they benefit from pitches moving less in the thin air for their success at home.
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When a player has to learn the movement of the ball at two different altitudes, the one he is in more (Coors) will win. When a player moves away from the Rockies, all of a sudden that pitch movement adjustment during road trips is gone.
In my eyes, I see Dahl as the perfect second hitter in the lineup when healthy. He’s shown a good ability to get on base in his career and his baserunning acumen works perfectly ahead of the big bats in the order. Dahl may never hit 30 homers in a season, but 20-25 from a full season isn’t out of the question for the former top-50 prospect.
For all of the promise that Dahl Showed in 2019, 2020 was an awful season. In just 24 games, Dahl batted .183 with a .470 OPS. He never got going at the plate due to lingering issues and wasn’t able to perform. I’m sure Cardinals fans love the idea of another outfielder who batted less than .200 in 2020, but Dahl has the highest ceiling of any player in the Cardinals’ current outfield not named Dylan Carlson.
Now more than 48 hours after the Rockies decided to non-tender Dahl, I am still puzzled at the move. They apparently feel confident in their other outfielders, but Dahl was projected just $3M in arbitration for 2021. His injury history and awful 2020 must’ve just scared the team away.
At 27 years old, it is well worth it to me for the Cardinals to take a chance on the health of a player like Dahl. He works as a perfect platoon bat for Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill at worst, and at best the Cardinals would be getting an All-Star outfielder.
Dahl’s price after his 2020 and his injury history will surely be low, and any team who acquires the 27-year-old has the chance to keep him around for three total seasons. There are a lot of guys in Dahl’s wheelhouse of players to go after, but none are as young as he is.