The Cubs said they wanted a complementary center fielder, didn’t they?
We’ll get into Jay’s performance and how he fits into the equation much more when this isn’t “breaking news,” but the short version is that Jay was for years a quietly very solid outfielder for the Cardinals, playing above-average defense with an above-average bat to match.
Things fell off in 2015, he was traded for Jedd Gyorko, and although the bat rebounded to league-average in 2016, the defense rated as below-average. We’ll dig in to find out what precisely was up the last two years.
As for the fit on the Cubs, Jay can slide into center field (and around the rest of the outfield) as necessary, depending on how much time the Cubs want to give Albert Almora Jr., and what the plan is for Jason Heyward. As Theo Epstein recently indicated, the Cubs weren’t planning to hand the starting job to Almora in any case, believing it would be more successful to ease him in with a complementary player out there to shoulder some of the load.
On first blush, the obvious benefit of adding a guy like Jay is that he can play anywhere in the outfield, brings a lefty bat, and does not preclude the Cubs from dolling out playing time however they see fit (i.e., imagine Almora breaks out as a starter, or imagine that both Javy Baez and Ben Zobrist simply have to start every single day, which requires Jason Heyward to play center field). Jay can, at that point, just be a really solid bench guy.
The obvious drawback is that, if everyone is healthy, on days that Jay starts – if he’s being brought in as a part-time center fielder – you’re going to see at least two of Kyle Schwarber/Javy Baez/Ben Zobrist/Jorge Soler (splitting up between second base and left field) taking a seat on the bench, assuming Heyward is a fixture in right field.
But, then, you can’t always assume perfect health, now can you?
As I said: more coming on Jay soon. For now, it’s a nice, flexible signing that gives the Cubs the options they’ll want in the outfield. He’s not Dexter Fowler, but very few are.
Oh, also, yes, this does make it considerably more unlikely that Fowler returns, but we’ve been pretty open and honest about the unlikelihood of that from day one anyway. It’s still possible after some crazy extreme series of transactions and/or Fowler once again having to settle for peanuts, but those things are not going to happen.
One more thing on Jay:
From the Cubs on Jay. Not that fielding percentage is everything, but it's still noteworthy. pic.twitter.com/qS5p0DJant
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) November 30, 2016
So, then, complementary outfielder down. Righty reliever up next?