It’s a Shame About Jay

There was a time, not too long ago, when Jon Jay looked like the prototypical Padres pickup. He was hitting an empty .260something with center field defense that made you long for the days of Wil Myers. He was a 31-year-old outfielder coming off a miserable year, someone who didn’t have a future on the Padres yet was simultaneously blocking other players—think Jabari Blash or Travis Jankowski—from getting their everyday shot. Internet scribes were calling for his benching (at least against lefties).

Then, as it almost always does, things changed. Jay’s empty .260 batting average crept up, slowly, reaching .300 briefly and sticking in the general vicinity to date. While Jay’s patience or home run power won’t light up his stat page, he leads the league with 24 doubles and, somehow, he’s OPSing .850 vs. lefties. And his defense—whew, his defense! Jay, who played center field in April not unlike an out-of-position little leaguer might, now suddenly roams the Petco expanses like a seasoned pro, routinely making highlight-reel catches like this one. (The metrics don’t necessarily agree on the defense, but let’s not get too bogged down in details).

What’s been fun about Jay is pretty simple. For one, it’s fun to watch good baseball players perform well. It can be fun to watch them stink, too—we’ve had our practice there. Mostly, though, we like to watch them play well, and Jay’s been playing well for weeks now. Two, we like to watch players unexpectedly perform well. It’s not that Jay’s outlook was dreadfully bad coming into this season, but he had just finished a .563 OPS, injury-plagued campaign, one that pushed his longtime team, the Cardinals, to jettison him to the west coast. Recently, at least, players don’t come to San Diego to unexpectedly succeed (especially hitters), and there was a question as to whether Jay could regain his early career form.

Of course, Jay’s performance has come on a awful team, one that’s probably two or three (or more) years away from returning to contention. Jay, 31 and on the final year of his contract, is almost certain to be dealt by July 31—that is, unless A.J. Preller reads this or unless Jay’s recent injury turns into something serious. It’s great that Jay’s increased his trade value, but he’s still 31, on the last year of his contract, and a year removed from the worst season of his career, factors that will limit his trade value despite the unexpected performance. Maybe he’ll return a relief pitching prospect or a low-level starter or a young outfielder three years away from turning into another Jay . . . if everything works out.

That’s the disappointing thing. The Padres hit on Jay; they bought low and have watched him outplay everyone’s expectations. In the end, however, because nothing around Jay has worked out—outside of Myers, Drew Pomeranz, and the spare part here or there—there will be nothing more to show for Jay’s success than another prospect or two, where the Padres will have to hit again. Jay’s sliding catches and resurgent bat are fun, in a vacuum, but they’re dragged down by the slog that is Padres baseball in 2016—a team without an identity and without a clear path to getting one.

In a perfect world, Jay would have been a complementary piece on a good Padres team, his already fun play amplified by its surroundings. Instead he’s relegated to an on-field audition for his next big-league stop, and we’re left to wonder what it would have felt like to watch that catch in the context of a pennant race.

You are encouraged to comment using an exisitng Twitter, Facebook, or Google account. Upvote comments you find helpful, and only downvote comments that do not belong. The downvote is not a 'disagree' button.

  • Sac Bunt Chris

    The route on that catch is nearly perfect.

    • He might’ve broke Statcast’s Route Efficiency with that one.

  • ballybunion

    Wait – the Padres are only nine games out of the wild card! Lotta baseball left! Jay may be playing for a (wildcard) contender by the ASG without being traded. Yes, I’m a hopeless optimist, but the Padres still have half their home games left and seats to fill, and neither Renfroe nor Margot will be up before September. Jankowski is looking like a solid replacement, but trading a guy who was a cheap bridge to the kids makes less sense than trading Upton and his salary. Neither will bring much in return, but Upton is salary relief, at least, while Jay is not.

    • Jay, due to the contract, should bring back more than Upton. That’s the idea, anyway. Plus he’s playing really well now. Can’t really see why the Padres wouldn’t deal him, strictly from a baseball perspective–that is, unless nobody’s really interested in giving up a decent prospect or two. If there’s a market for Upton, he’s probably gone too. Right?

      • ballybunion

        Well, that’s the crux of the matter. Everyone keeps saying “the team is rebuilding, and this guy is playing well, so trade him for prospects.” It all depends on your definition of ‘rebuilding’, which of course, the Padres are officially NOT doing, because the owners said “no more fire sales”.

        The national baseball press seems to think the Astros model is the way to rebuild, but that’s several years of being the laughing stock in exchange for 3-4 first round # 1 picks. To Padres fans, that should rightly be seen as a fire sale and a half-decade of embarrassment on the field.

        I see A.J. Preller being smarter, picking up Jay as a veteran bridge to Margot to allow the kid a full year of development, while making the team more respectable. The same thing he’s doing with Ramirez at short, only with a second year option since Rondon/Guerra are more than a year away, and also with Rodney and his option, with neither Maurer nor Jon Edwards ready to step up.

        I mentioned half the home schedule, 40 games and the need to fill seats and give the fan base a reason to be hopeful. That’s part of the baseball equation too, not just trading players for prospects. I think Preller is building by improving the team player by player, position by position, and filling the farm with prospects of his own choice through the draft and international.

      • I don’t think you need to go “full Luhnow,” as some like to say. But I also think it’s kind of silly to try to build, say, a 77-win team. Once you start making moves that are damaging the future to make sure you stay out of the cellar, then there might be a problem. But, yeah, there’s definitely an avenue to success that doesn’t involve three or four years of 60-win teams. It’s just a bit harder to do, so Preller and Co. are going to have to start hitting on moves at a higher rate.

      • And, in fairness, they’re maybe starting to get a bit better. The Kimbrel trade (the second one) was good, Rodney and Pomeranz have been great, and even the Jay-Gyorko swap looked pretty good before Jay’s injury.