Jedd Gyorko Heads to the Dodgers

The Dodgers have acquired Jedd Gyorko from the Cardinals, adding a versatile player who can handle any position on the infield in a pinch to their mix of positionally-flexible infielders. He’s still on the IL at the moment with a wrist injury he sustained in early June, though he was expected to begin a rehab assignment today before the Cardinals traded him. Given his placement on the 60-day IL, he’ll be eligible to return to the majors in seven days, though his rehab assignment will likely last longer than that. In exchange for Gyorko, a smattering of cash to cover his contract, and international bonus money, the Cardinals received Tony Cingrani and Jeffry Abreu from the Dodgers.

If he’s healthy, Gyorko is the embodiment of the way the Dodgers build their roster. He’s an average-to-plus defender at second and third base, with sneaky range and steady hands. He’s also manned first for the Cardinals at times, and has performed adequately there. Need him to line up in the outfield? Okay, fine, he can’t do that — he’s only played two innings of left field in his professional career. Still, he’s a very Dodgers infielder, capable of standing wherever necessary and platooning at second base with Max Muncy.

Why platooning? Gyorko is a fearsome hitter against left-handers. He’s compiled a career .349 wOBA against lefties over 766 career PA, good for a 122 wRC+. He’s far less potent against righties — his .237/.298/.410 line works out to a .307 wOBA and 94 wRC+. The Dodgers as a team stack up poorly against lefties — Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Alex Verdugo are all left-handed, and all are starter-level talents.

The main right-handed bats the team uses to spell the starters are all injured. David Freese, Enrique Hernández, and Chris Taylor are all on the IL. Freese, in particular, is the kind of player Gyorko can emulate. He crushes lefties while playing a passable corner infield. His hamstring strain makes his return uncertain. Taylor isn’t exactly the kind of player Gyorko is, but with him on the shelf, the team can’t leave Seager in and slide Taylor to second against lefties, so Gyorko helps there too.

All of this, of course, assumes Gyorko returns to form. From 2016 to 2018, he was a consistent performer for the Cardinals, putting up a 111 wRC+ over 1321 plate appearances and amassing 6.1 WAR. Nothing about that performance looked particularly fluky, though ZiPS and Steamer each pegged him for a slight decline this year. With the addition of Paul Goldschmidt, however, there weren’t enough infield spots for Gyorko, and he scuffled in limited playing time early in the year. Gyorko’s numbers have never looked particularly good from a Statcast perspective: he outperformed his xwOBA by 13 points from 2016 to 2018 despite being as slow as molasses, which helps explain some of the projection pessimism. Still, all of this considers only his overall performance. Against lefties, his xwOBA ranged from above-average to elite each year.

Gyorko’s swing and plate approach also suit the Dodgers. He’s prone to swinging and missing, but has a decent eye at the plate. His swing seems quiet, but he gets a lot of power out of it, which makes him capable of muscling home runs out to the opposite field. The whiffs, walks, and homers profile is what the Dodgers teach, and they’ve had good success getting the most out of players who naturally lift the ball like Gyorko.

Is Jedd Gyorko the answer for the Dodgers? It’s unclear. He’s a bit of a wild card at the moment, coming off a long layoff and without any 2019 performance to speak of. He’s the exact kind of player the Dodgers prefer for their bench, though: a flexible glove whose bat plays up when used situationally. In a year with no August trades, he provides good insurance against Freese, Taylor, or Hernández reinjuring themselves. For a team that has already sewn up the division, insurance is a savvy purchase.

Incidentally, though Gyorko has a team option for 2020, his tenure with the Dodgers will likely end after 2019. That club option is for $13 million, above the going rate for a player of Gyorko’s standing. His salary this year is itself a weird situation; the Padres are still chipping in $5 million of the $13 million he’s owed. The Dodgers seem likely to exercise the $1 million buyout in his contract and allow Gyorko to enter free agency, though like Freese, he could always strike a deal to return to them at a lower annual rate.

From the Cardinals perspective, the team seemed committed to giving Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong full-time reps at third and second to start the year. Though Carpenter is injured and Wong has struggled, Tommy Edman and Yairo Muñoz have filled in adequately this year, and represent younger alternatives who roughly duplicate Gyorko’s skillset. While Gyorko’s bat packs more punch, the roster-crunched Cardinals seemed unlikely to be able to bring him back along with Carpenter.

In return for a player who seemed to have lost his roster spot, the Cardinals essentially got a lottery ticket. Tony Cingrani is out for the season after having shoulder surgery in June, and he’s a free agent after this year. His inclusion in the deal was strictly a compensation offset. Jeffry Abreu represents the real return for the Redbirds in the trade.

Abreu, a 19-year-old playing in the AZL, profiles as a potential future relief arm. Per Eric Longenhagen, his fastball is the main attraction here; it sits 89-92 with good natural cutting action. Due to his large frame, it presents a tough angle for hitters and pairs well with an average slider. He’s far off from the majors, of course, but has a chance to be the kind of middle relief arm teams increasingly need in this day and age.

Trades between contending teams aren’t particularly common, but this one seems like an easy fit for both sides. The Dodgers get right-handed hitting in a can if they need it; the Cardinals shed a little salary while dealing a blocked player, and international bonus money and a lottery ticket exchange hands in the deal. This trade isn’t likely to determine the fate of the NL, but it helps both teams and costs each little.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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