Chicago Cubs’ outfielder Jon Jay is off to a fast start which begs the question; should the Cubs deal him?
With Dexter Fowler having departed for St. Louis following the 2016 season, the Chicago Cubs were left with a void in center field. Replacing Fowler would be no small feat as the All-Star center fielder posted a slash line of .276/.393/.447 in his final season with the North Siders.
Already on the roster to play center field was Albert Almora, but the young outfielder had just 47 games of big league experience at the end of the 2016 season. To help fill the hole left by Fowler, the Cubs signed veteran outfielder Jon Jay to a one-year contract before the 2017 season.
Before joining the Cubs, Jay had enjoyed plenty of success at the major league level. In seven big league seasons spent with the Cardinals and Padres, Jay registered a slash line of .287/.352/.384.
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Jay’s high career OBP is a big reason why the Cubs signed him and could prove to be a top-selling point if the Cubs decide to trade him.
Why trade Jay?
Even after losing Fowler, the Cubs maintained plenty of depth in the outfield. Sure, they were losing an All-Star caliber center fielder, but they still had five guys who were capable of playing the outfield positions.
Through a quarter of the season, it is starting to become apparent that the Cubs do not need Jay. Almora, who is platooning with Jay (and others) in center field, is off to a solid start at the plate. The 23-year-old is slashing .260/.315/.370 with two home runs and 10 RBI. Perhaps even more impressive than his offensive ability is his skill on defense. In 224 1/3 innings in the outfield this season, Almora has yet to commit an error. In fact, Almora has not yet committed an error at the major league level (461 1/3 total innings).
Almora, along with Jason Heyward, and rookie Ian Happ have proven that they are capable of holding down the center field position. The combination of Almora and Heyward will likely continue platooning the position if Jay is traded. Happ’s time in the majors may be limited after his batting average sunk to .240 following Monday’s game.
Now is the right time
The Cubs will likely never get as good of an opportunity to trade Jay than right now. The 32-year-old veteran is slashing .294/.384/.376 with five doubles and seven RBI in 42 games. Even though Jay has played a slightly below average center field (negative three defensive runs saved in 89 2/3 innings), he is making up for it with his bat.
Even though the Cubs have used Jay sparely in the leadoff spot this season, that spot in the line-up would be perfect for him. With his high OBP, relatively low strikeout rate (18%), and team-friendly contract ($8 million), Jay would be a great pickup for a contending team.
At the very least, a team could add Jay as depth in case a player hits the DL.
What could Jay net the Cubs?
Because Jay has not been given a chance to play every day, some teams may be apprehensive when trading for him. Despite that, Jay has always sported a fantastic OBP throughout his career and should be able to net the Cubs one or maybe even two lower end prospects. It would be ideal to see a pitching prospect or two involved in the trade, as the Cubs are looking at any and all possibilities for their rotation moving forward.
Likelihood of a trade occurring
The chances of Jay getting dealt are relatively slim. The Cubs brought in Jay because they felt like Almora was not ready to take over center field full-time. Theo and company were right about that, but outside forces may have other things in mind.
Javier Baez is off to an excellent start in 2017. Despite his low OBP (.291), Baez has hit eight home runs and recorded 23 RBI. Due to the struggles of Kyle Schwarber, Baez has been given the opportunity to lead off of late. The 24-year-old has seen some success in the leadoff spot, as evident by his 2-for-5 effort on Sunday that was capped by a 413-foot home run.
The success of Baez directly effects where Ben Zobrist plays. Zobrist, the reigning World Series MVP, has logged more innings in the outfield than at second base this season. That is partly due to Baez’s solid play this season.
With Zobrist playing an increased amount in the outfield (mainly right field), Jay’s playing time will be impacted more and more. If Zobrist starts in right field, and Jason Heyward is healthy, Heyward would be moved over to center. Heyward has the best glove of all the Cubs’ outfielders. Because of that, Almora and Jay will see a decrease in playing time. That reduction in playing time will eventually make Jay expendable.
So much depth
The Cubs have so much outfield depth it is not even funny. Since Jay is playing so well in his limited role of late, the Cubs should deal him and begin stocking piling young arms.
With Ian Happ now bouncing around the major league roster, the Cubs just don’t have room for all the outfielders. Yes, Happ is well on his way back to Iowa, but Jay’s trade value is so high right now the Cubs should take advantage of it.