In a clubhouse full of personalities, a room of infectious energy and a general joie de vivre, nobody lit up the joint more than Jarrod Dyson, the 50th-round pick who willed himself to the big leagues.
In moments, he was a swaggering hype man. In others, he was a cackling rapscallion. On most days, though, he was simply the loudest voice in the room.
For close to six seasons, Dyson was the Royals’ fourth outfielder, a bonafide blur on the base paths, a valuable piece of a world champion, a truth teller who did not suffer fools or care about polishing his public image.
It was Dyson, of course, who coined the his iconic tagline (“That’s what speed do”) and Dyson who ripped off the infamous “vroom vroom” gesture against the Oakland A’s during the 2014 Wild Card Game. It was Dyson who irked the Baltimore Orioles with a victory guarantee during the 2014 American League Championship Series, and it was Dyson, just months after the 2015 World Series, who was unafraid to talk about the looming elephant in the room. A group of best friends and ballplayers had won a world championship together. But the party could not last forever.
“We know this group isn’t going to be together forever,” Dyson said last February, during the opening days of spring training. “So we’re trying to take advantage of it.”
And so it was that Dyson, in some small way, predicted his own fate. Eleven months later, on late Friday afternoon, the Royals sent the 32-year-old outfielder to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns, striking a deal that made sense for both sides and followed the formula for this winter.
As the offseason began, the Royals sought depth for their thin starting rotation, looking for assets they could control beyond 2017. Yet they could not add significant payroll, adhering to the limitations set by ownership. The predicament forced the front office to flex its creative muscles on the trade market. And when the Royals sent closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler in early December, the table was set for another trade.
That week, the Royals discussed a Dyson-for-Karns deal at the winter meetings in National Harbor, Md. But Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto was not ready to pull the trigger. By Friday afternoon, both teams were on board.
“We needed to do this deal,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.
Dyson, who is entering his final season of arbitration after making $3.45 million in 2016, is set to become a free agent following the 2017 season. For one year of Dyson, the Royals acquired Karns, a 29-year-old right-hander who will compete with Chris Young, Matt Strahm and others for the final spot in the starting rotation.
If Karns does not end up in the rotation, the Royals believe he can profile as a power reliever. He is under club control through 2020 and will make the league minimum in 2017, two factors that added to his appeal. In all, the Royals will save close to $10 million in salary after trading Davis and Dyson.
The Royals are slated to enter spring training with four locks in their starting rotation. Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy are expected to slot in front of Yordano Ventura and Jason Vargas. But the fifth spot remained fluid. With a surplus of outfielders, the club dealt from a position of strength to address a weakness.
“We had depth there,” Moore said of the outfield. “And what we need to do is look to continue to add players that we control beyond 2017. Pitching, as we know, is so important. Power pitching is hard to get.”
To this point, Karns has experienced just modest success at the big-league level. In 2016, he posted a 5.15 ERA in 94 1/3 innings while swinging between the Mariners’ starting rotation and bullpen. He missed the final two months of the season after suffering a lower-back strain in late July.
The Royals, however, see upside and versatility. Karns recorded a 3.67 ERA and 145 strikeouts for the Tampa Bays Rays in 2015, making 26 starts and throwing a career-high 147 innings. For his career, Karns is 14-9 with a 4.41 ERA in 265 1/3 innings. His peripheral numbers offer some optimism. He has struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings while issuing 3.8 walks.
During a conference call on Friday, Moore described Karns as “somebody that we feel can compete for a spot in our rotation.”
“If that doesn’t work out, he can be a power arm — a strikeout guy in the pen,” Moore said. “So the deal was attractive for us.”
A former 12th-round pick of Washington in 2009, Karns debuted for the Nationals on May 28, 2013, and made three appearances before being traded to Tampa Bay before the 2014 season. The deal sent three players, including catcher Jose Lobaton, back to Washington. Karns spent two years with the Rays before being dealt again, this time in a six-player deal that included infielders Brad Miller and Logan Morrison heading to Tampa Bay.
On Friday, he was traded again, joining a club that has designs on making the playoffs for the third time in four years. As the deal became official, Moore said the Royals’ medical staff was comfortable with Karns’ recovery from the back strain. He has been working out this offseason with no restrictions, Moore said.
“Our scouts have done their due diligence,” Moore said.
On Friday, when the deal was all but done, Moore phoned Dyson, breaking the news to the former 50th-round pick. The two men talked for a few minutes. Dyson understood the situation.
“We built something special in Kansas City,” Dyson said in an interview with SiriusXM Radio. “I can’t thank Dayton enough.”
Moore called trading Dyson a “difficult hurdle.” Ten years ago, the Royals found Dyson, a junior-college outfielder, in the 50th round of the 2006 draft. These days, the round no longer exists. And Dyson would grow into an elite defensive outfielder and one of the best percentage base-stealers in the big leagues. On a 2016 Royals team ravaged by injuries, Dyson led all position players in Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs’ version of the advanced metric.
“He’s been a great leader,” Moore said. “He’s been somebody that our fans have really become attracted to — and a big part of what we’ve done here.”
And yet, the Royals viewed Dyson as expendable. For the moment, Soler is set to start in right field, alongside left fielder Alex Gordon and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. That leaves the Paulo Orlando as the club’s fourth outfielder.
The club also retains center fielder Billy Burns as insurance, while specialist Terrance Gore could hold down a roster spot as a fifth outfielder and late-inning pinch runner.
What the Royals did not have was another possible arm for the starting rotation. On Friday, they acquired one.
“We needed to do this deal to add to the depth,” Moore said. “But you never have enough, and we’ll continue to search and evaluate.”