What factors are contributing to the Cardinals' decision to give Carlson a chance?

Cardinals appear to have Carlson in their 2024 plans after previous trade talk
Dylan Carlson
Dylan Carlson / Scott Kane/GettyImages

In an interview during the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitted to taking offers on outfielder Tyler O'Neill.

This is a pretty surprising move, considering Mozeliak has never been one to discuss specifics. Mozeliak and manager Oli Marmol were very public in their disdain for O'Neill to the extent of going to the media after a game where O'Neill appeared to lack hustle.

During the interview, Mozeliak also said the outfield would have Lars Nootbaar in left field, super-utility man Tommy Edman in center field, and Jordan Walker reclaiming right field. Mozeliak said Dylan Carlson would be the fourth outfielder.

Considering that he was considered the target in several moves last season and was thought to be moved for sure this offseason, Mozeliak naming Carlson the fourth outfielder is surprising.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains that keeping Carlson around can be linked to how things go with Masyn Winn going into 2024. "Carlson’s ability to play center field has added value for the Cardinals if Winn struggles in spring and Edman must start at shortstop." He added the team is not keen on accelerating Victor Scott II's development even after a tremendous Arizona Fall League appearance.

While Winn is a talented shortstop, his offense struggled at the Major League level. After a breakout campaign with the Memphis Redbirds in 2023, his bat quieted significantly once he arrived in St. Louis. If this continues into 2024, the Cardinals may be forced to have Edman play shortstop, allowing Carlson to take over at centerfield.

Carlson is rehabbing from ankle surgery and working with a coach from Driveline - a service used by Nolan Arenado and Lars Nootbaar - to unlock some power in his left side swing. Carlson was once believed to be the top prospect in the organization, so giving him a chance is reasonable.

Carlson struggled mightily in 2023, hitting .219/.318/.333 with an OPS of .651. He had eight doubles, one triple, and five home runs while collecting 27 runs and 27 RBIs. If Carlson can get the help he needs with his swing and taps into that power and skill Cardinals fans have been hoping to see from him, it could be tremendous for the Cardinals. He can play center and right field positions, and if he can unlock his swing, he can be a potent option off the bench or even as a designated hitter if needed.

This is Carlson's first year of arbitration eligibility. He will not be a free agent until 2027. With that much team control remaining, the Cardinals are wise to allow Carlson the opportunity to improve within the organization. Allowing O'Neill to have a change of scenery is necessary. Mozeliak wants to avoid another case where they again give up on the wrong outfielder, like Randy Arozarena or Adolis Garcia.

Carlson has struggled through injury for a couple of seasons. He deserves a shot at helping the team while at full strength. Even if Edman and Winn shine in their respective positions, having Carlson available will be tremendous. Remembering the struggles of 2023, actual depth is essential.