Now that the Lance Lynn contact has been taken care of, and both Tony Cruz and Peter Bourjos have avoided arbitration, we can turn our attention to the last piece of the Cardinals 2015 puzzle, Jon Jay.
There may not be a more polarizing figure on the current Cardinals roster than Jon Jay. There is no question that he is a likeable player and has developed a strong fan base just on his personality alone. In addition, fans that favor offensive production first will tend to side with Jay and point to his consistency in batting average (career .295 without much deviation) and on-base percentage (.379 last year, .359 for his career). They will also be quick to point out his lack of errors, some to the point of suggesting he is worthy of a Gold Glove. Perhaps that is going a bit overboard, but Jon Jay does have a good glove and catches any ball that he can get to.
The other side quickly dismisses those claims by using his slugging percentage to show (rightfully) that he is a singles only hitter as well as a lack of stolen bases (6, down from 10 and 19 the previous two seasons), proclaiming him a base clogger, thus not a good choice for the top of the batting order. The persecution of Jay continues with a deeper look into his defensive performance, specifically below league average range and less than impressive defensive runs saved. It is hard to argue with this after watching Billy Hamilton score from third on a short fly ball. That video should come with a parental warning.
The fact is that all of this is true and just demonstrates the wide diversity of how fans look at and evaluate a player in the game today. Perhaps it would be different with a more critical approach to broadcasting on television and radio, but that is not the product being offered at the moment.
How does this affect Jon Jay ? Simple – of all the players on the roster today, Jon Jay should be the last to face an actual arbitration hearing. All of the positives from his 2014 season (taking the every day center fielding job away from Peter Bourjos, an improved offensive year, better base running) will be shattered by a cold hard examination of his defensive performance, which will be the basis of the Cardinals case to the arbitration committee.
The two sides have not disclosed any numbers publicly, but we do have some information start forming a basis for a possible resolution. Jay avoided arbitration last year by signing a one year $3.25M contract. Based on his 2014 season, and both sides should agree with this, he surpassed the previous performance that earned him that contract. As a result, he should expect some raise above the league inflation, and the Cardinals should be expected to do at least that. That puts a number like $4.5M in play and will likely be near the midpoint of the two sides.
What to do ?
The proper play here is for a one year contract for $4.5M. His fans can rejoice that they will have another season with the young man while his critics will wince at nearly $5M spent for a player that they don’t think should be an every day player and would rather see him not even on the roster. The outcome of an arbitration hearing could make that a reality sooner rather than later.
The thing that should not happen is a multi-year deal, buying out Jay’s last two years of arbitration and any free agency years. Unlike the Lance Lynn situation, the Cardinals have quite a bit of depth in the position, though nobody particularly stands out, including Jon Jay. Right now, Tommy Pham can play better defense, though he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to hit major league pitching. Peter Bourjos has a slightly better track record than Pham, though he can’t be viewed as anything more than competition to push Jay for another year. Randal Grichuk remains a curious possibility, especially if Jason Heyward is up for a move to center (unlikely). Stephen Piscotty squelches any thoughts about Jay as a long term play in left field. Down in the minor leagues, Charlie Tilson continues to move up and could soon be pushing his way into consideration. The point here is that the Cardinals do not have a clear cut answer for the center field situation, and that should keep the front office from offering an extended contract to Jay. The upside here is that if viewed as a non-punitive course of action, that could be exactly the fire Jon Jay needs under his feet to prove his critics wrong.
A one year $4.5M contract is the answer that both sides should be able to live with. That is what I would work to if I were the Cardinals front office or Jon Jay’s agent. The next few days should be interesting as the deadline for submitting arbitration offers has passed. Unless the two sides are finalizing some sort of deal, it appears as if Jon Jay will be the first Cardinals player to reach arbitration since Darren Oliver in 1999. Oh, the Cardinals won that case – and non-tendered him at the end of the season.
What would you do about Jon Jay ? Let me know in the comments or yell at me on Twitter