Outfielder David Dahl is Now a Free Agent, and Yes, I Think the Cubs Should Target Him - But There are HUGE Questions

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Outfielder David Dahl is Now a Free Agent, and Yes, I Think the Cubs Should Target Him – But There are HUGE Questions

Chicago Cubs

Among the areas where intriguing options were getting non-tendered yesterday, the outfield sure saw some interesting names, eh? And, as we explored this morning, the Cubs are kinda desperately needy in the outfield, so that’s perfect, right?

Except, let’s make sure we frame this the right way: the Cubs are responsible for putting arguably the MOST intriguing name on the market by non-tendering Kyle Schwarber. So if we’re going to dig into interesting guys in free agency for the Cubs, they kinda have to be stacked against what the Cubs rejected: Kyle Schwarber’s age 28 season at $8 to $10 million.

To that end, the name the probably generated the most buzz last night aside from Schwarber was now-former Rockies outfielder David Dahl.

Before we get into the merits of going after Dahl, let me offer the craziest part of his non-tender. Unlike Schwarber, who was going into his final year of team control at something like $8 to $10 million, Dahl was projected to make just $2.5 to $2.7 million in arbitration. Moreover, although 2021 was to be his second arbitration year, Dahl was a Super Two, which means he could have remained under team control for 2021, 2022, AND 2023. We know that the Rockies have indicated times are tight, but that’s a pretty extreme non-tender right there.

And I’m cynical, so I say there has to be a good reason the Rockies passed on such a cheap deal. We’ll circle back to that in a moment, because there are major “other” considerations here.

Let’s first just talk performance for the 26-year-old outfielder.

The 10th overall pick in 2012, Dahl worked his way steadily through the Rockies system, and by the time he was ready to debut in 2016, he was a tip-top prospect who was crushing the upper levels of the minors in his early 20s. He was very, very well regarded.

And in the bigs, he generally did put up great numbers, albeit with the obvious Coors Field caveat (which shrinks his wRC+ significantly), as well as the games played caveat:

(via FanGraphs)

Dahl has pretty significant traditional splits, hitting righties much better than lefties, and he’s always had an ample strikeout rate. His walk rate isn’t great, so he’s very dependent on a high BABIP and good ISO to produce good numbers. Of course, before 2020, he did it just fine – good line drive rate, decent hard contact, low soft contact, etc. He has a solid batted ball profile, which reduces some of the sting of the K/BB numbers.

For his part, Schwarber walks a ton more, and also is more of a strikeout risk. Schwarber is more of a fly ball guy than a line drive guy, but has way more hard contact than Dahl. Schwarber has more hard contact than most hitters, to be fair.

Like every Rockies hitter, Dahl has huge home-road splits, though they aren’t as egregious as we’ve seen from some players, and we know that the Coors Field effect doesn’t just inflate home numbers for position players, it very likely also DEFLATES road numbers because of the adjustments on the body. We’ve got a whole lot of data over the years that strongly suggests Coors is super friendly at home, but playing for the Rockies is super unfriendly to your road numbers. So for Dahl (.318/.361/.556 (111 wRC+) at home, .248/.302/.420 (87) on the road), I don’t really feel like this is all that disqualifying in isolation.

In isolation. Key words there. Because here’s something that does concern me: in all three of his successful non-2020 seasons, his expected numbers at Statcast were much worse than his actual numbers. In other words, his quality of contact did not come close to supporting his actual results. Like I said above, he has a solid batted ball profile, but probably not what you’d expect to see from a guy hitting .300 and slugging .500+. So, I could argue that the implication there in the expected metrics is … he’s getting a whole lot of help from Coors and luck.

Defensively, Dahl can play any outfield spot, and he rates as a bit below average in all three spots by the traditional advanced metrics, though Outs Above Average at Statcast had him slightly above average in 2019. I don’t have anything of anecdotal use on his defense, so I can only go by the numbers and his versatility and say, yeah, he’s probably a better defender overall than Schwarber (and he gives you the flexibility to move Ian Happ to left if you thought that was an overall defensive upgrade (which I suspect it would be, because I think Happ can be excellent in left)).

So far, I’m guessing you can see why swapping Schwarber for Dahl could make a lot of sense for the Cubs, right? Yes, he’s a lefty bat with platoon splits, but not nearly as strong as Schwarber’s. Yes, he strikes out a good bit, but not as much as Schwarber. Yes, he’s not an elite defender or anything, but he’s more versatile and also probably better than Schwarber. No, he probably doesn’t have as much offensive upside as Schwarber, but he’s considered a quality potential break-out-type hitter for a long time, and is also a year younger than Schwarber. Oh, and he would theoretically cost a whole lot less, and could come with several more years of team control.

Where’s the however, right?

Well there is one. A big one. A really big one, and it’s why a guy like Dahl was non-tendered despite the extra team control and low price tag: health.

Notice something in the stats up there? Not only has Dahl never come close to playing a full season, he also missed 2017 entirely. And his terrible 2020 season? It’s because his shoulder was jacked, and he just had surgery on it. The health stuff. It’s a major issue here, and if the Rockies were willing to cut bait on a promising bat that always produced WHEN healthy, I feel like it says a lot. Also, note that no team was even willing to trade a small return for Dahl and that team control. Tells you something, no?

In his short career, Dahl has already dealt with: a stress fracture in his ribs, back spasms, a broken foot, a severe ankle sprain, an oblique strain, and, most recently, ongoing shoulder discomfort that led to surgery. He first felt it back in January when throwing, tried to play through it, tried to get a cortisone shot for it, and then finally had a pretty significant (at least in terms of the many things addressed) clean-up procedure:

Dr. Jeffrey Dugas of the Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., Dahl’s hometown, performed the procedure. It required repairing fraying in the labrum, fixing a small area of the rotator cuff, and removing a bone spur and bursa sac – which were causing the impingement that created the pain, Dahl said.

Maybe that fixed everything and all is well, but maybe he can’t really throw well anymore, and his defensive value tanks. Or maybe the shoulder discomfort lingers just enough to crush his ability to hit the ball hard, as it did in 2020. Clearly, the Rockies weren’t interested in taking the chance *EVEN* at such a low rate, and *EVEN* knowing a tendered contract wouldn’t be fully guaranteed. I mean, they could have tendered him, seen how he looked in Spring Training, and decided to let him go for 30 days termination pay.

So, then, let’s circle back to the premise. Even if you could tell yourself that Dahl is a mild improvement – when you consider salary and team control, in addition to the performance stuff – what you can’t tell yourself is that you have any clue whatsoever that Dahl will actually be good to go in 2021. This would not simply be a situation where you’re swapping this skill set for that skill set and a little extra financial flexibility.

Instead, if the Cubs go after Dahl, you have to see it as a flyer. A seriously high-upside flyer? Absolutely. But a flyer is dubbed a flyer because it comes cheap and frequently nets you nothing.

All that said, in a year where we know the Cubs aren’t going to spend big, and might intentionally make a “heavy restart” to see what they can be in 2022 and beyond, it seems like a flyer on Dahl is actually exactly the kind of thing the Cubs should be doing. Maybe it blows up in 2021, and so be it. But maybe Dahl is healthy, and finally stays healthy. If you get lucky/good, then you just found yourself a plus offensive outfielder for three years of team control (helping out with that post-2021 cliff thing).

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.