Chicago Cubs: What are the chances of the team bringing Jon Jay back?
By Tim Stebbins
With Spring Training fast approaching, outfielder Jon Jay remains a free agent. Could he return to the Chicago Cubs for the 2018 season?
Jon Jay was brilliant for the Chicago Cubs throughout the 2017 season. And yet, it feels like a return to the team for 2018 and beyond is unlikely.
The Cubs signed Jay early last offseason, bringing him aboard early on to replace former incumbent center fielder, Dexter Fowler. While the move seemed small at the time, Jay turned into an everyday player.
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Jay hit .296 in 141 games; although he hit just .267 (53 games) leading off, he hit a tremendous .350 (43 games) batting ninth. When the Cubs needed a hit, it felt like Jay delivered every time.
Jay’s contract paid him $8 million last season; with his successful 2017 season, a pay raise could be in order for the soon-to-be 33-year-old. For the Cubs, though, paying a role player $10 million or more might not make sense.
Next step forward for Almora
As things currently stand, the Cubs have five outfielders, including Ben Zobrist, who also plays infield. This also includes Albert Almora Jr., who will be just 24 years old next season.
Almora played in 132 games in 2017, hitting a strong .298 overall (.342 against left-handed pitching). Between this and his strong defense in center field, Almora seems capable of taking on a larger role in 2018.
In 2017, Jay played 64 games in left field, 54 in center field and 19 in right field, respectively. Overall, he played in more games than Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber, two young players who should receive more playing time next season.
Big opportunities for young outfielders
Schwarber played in 129 games last season, which does not include the games he played in the minor leagues after getting demoted to Triple-A Iowa. Before his demotion, Schwarber hit just .171; after returning, he hit .256, a significant improvement.
Essentially, Schwarber should see more playing time in 2018 because of the improvements he made at the plate. Furthermore, he looks significantly thinner this offseason. A healthier Schwarber could provide lethal results for the Cubs’ offense.
On the other hand, Happ played in just 115 games last season because he did not make his MLB debut until May 13. Like Jay, Happ can play every outfield position and did so in 2017.
Happ burst onto the scene in 2017, hitting 24 home runs with 68 RBIs in just 364 at-bats. However, he did strike out a whopping 129 times, a number that certainly must improve in 2018.
Ultimately, the Cubs will likely need to sign at least one more position player. Zobrist can and will see time in the outfield, but having a more natural-outfielder is better for the team’s defense.
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At this point, Jay very well could return; re-signing him would give the Cubs a versatile outfielder that hits for average. If he does not return, though, replacing him will be tough. If the option is there, the Cubs must find a way to bring Jay back for 2018.