No, seriously. At six characters, it’s a Diamondbacks’ record, undercutting by one the previous shortest player name - a three-way tie between Jay Bell, Ben Ford and Andy Fox. [And before anybody asks, I dismiss all arguments that J.J. Putz qualifies, because using not one but two initials smacks of cheating. Though I would be most amused if our new player took on the label of J. Jay...] But the deal came out of nowhere, and was almost entirely unexpected. What will Jay’s role be, and how will he fit into the team - both now, and when the disabled list empties out?
Who is Jon Jay?
Jay is 33 years old, an outfielder who both bats and throws left-handed, and is in his ninth major-league season. The first six years were spent with the Cardinals, and the three since with the Padres, Cubs and, most recently, Royals. Over 1,047 games and 3,742 PA, he has a line of .290/.356/.383 for a .738 OPS and OPS+ of 103. That’s excellent batting average, mediocre plate discipline (though Jay doesn’t strike out much either) and very limited power. He has a career high of only 10 home-runs,and that was back in 2011. Since the start of 2015, he has only six homers, so do not expect much power, especially in the post-humidor era at Chase Field.
There is not much of a platoon difference for Jay. His OPS against right-handed pitching is only 38 points higher than the .709 figure versus left-handers. Defensively, he can play all three outfield positions, and has done so for the Royals this season. In 2018, he has mostly been a left-fielder (27 starts), but has also seen time in center (15) and right (9). But over his career, about three-quarters of his starts have been in center. By UZR, he grades out best in right (+5.8/150 games), is okay in center (-2.4) and weakest in right (-7.9). He’s not particularly active on the base-paths, with just six stolen bases last season with the Cubs, in eight attempts. This year, he’s 3-for-5 in that department.
What did he cost?
Jay is on a one-year contract with the Royals, at a cost of $3 million, and we’re taking on his whole salary, so the D-backs will paying a little less than $2 million of that. There were two prospects sent back to the Royals in the deal. The better known is Gabe Speier, though he didn’t make the Minor League Ball list of top prospects pre-season. Speier was originally drafted by the Red Sox, and we got him from the Braves in the Shelby Miller trade, though you would probably be forgiven for not remembering that. Even though this will be his fifth organization, Speier is still only 23. He was pitching out of the Jackson Generals bullpen at AA, and had a 3.03 ERA over 29.2 innings this year, with a K:BB ratio of 26:10.
The other prospect is considerably rawer: 18-year-old Elvis Luciano, who was signed in the Dominican Republic in October 2016. He started off last year in the Dominican Summer League, was promoted to the Arizona Rookie League in August, and got a cup of coffee with the Missoula Osprey. Overall, he had a 2.84 ERA over 66.2 innings, with a K:BB ratio of 52:18. According to Zach Buchanan, “one scout who saw him as an amateur in the DR said he thought he could be a No. 3 or 4 starter.” Obviously, however, there’s an awful lot of pitches to be thrown before anything like that could possibly come to fruition, and he’s much more of a lottery ticket than anything.
How will Jay fit in?
Immediately, Jay replaces Kristopher Negron on both the 25- and 40-man rosters for Arizona. As a left-hander with positional flexibility and not much power, he’s perhaps best thought of as an MLB-level version of Socrates Brito. Y’know, except one that can actually hit. The team has gone after Jay in the winter, GM Mike Hazen saying the D-backs were “fairly close” to signing him. Hazen also said, “this move was focused on a clear area of need right now... He fits very nicely with what we’re trying to do. He comes in at a time when we need him.” This particular trade had been worked on for about the past week, after the team started to look into external options when Steven Souza went back on the DL.
The move makes the team again left-handed heavy in the outfield, with Jay, Jarrod Dyson and David Peralta all batting from that side, and only Chris Owings among the current active roster being a right-hander. However, as mentioned, Jay’s splits mean he can hold his own against left-handed pitching, so will likely get the nod over Dyson in those match-ups. What’s perhaps more uncertain is what will happen down the road. While Hazen stressed there had been no change in the expected time-frames for A.J. Pollock or Steven Souza to return, there will be a roster crunch coming. Said Hazen, “We’ve thought through the future a little bit, but when we get closer to that, we’ll address it further.”
There’s some logic to that - there’s no way to tell what might happen health-wise, both to the rehabbing players, and the ones already on the active roster. But if we end up with everyone being back to health, there will need to be some moves made. Presuming Souza comes back first, I can see Owings going back to being a utility infielder, probably pushing Deven Marrero off the 25-man roster. But when Pollock returns as well... The only further room to maneuver I can see, involves the three catchers: Alex Avila, Jeff Mathis and John Ryan Murphy. One of them might have to go.
The Jon Jay trade is...
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