Padres, Cards Swap Interesting Players in Uninteresting Trade

Dig around enough and you can make any transaction kind of interesting. Everybody in the upper ranks of professional baseball, after all, is only there because they possess extraordinary talent. Everyone has promise, so everyone can make a difference, so everyone deserves a certain amount of attention. Yet moves are considered relative to one another, and I’m not going to lie to you — Tuesday’s trade between the Padres and the Cardinals isn’t one you’ll think about very much. This is a move that’ll get lost in all the thoughts about dealing for Jose Fernandez.

From the Padres, the Cardinals are getting Jedd Gyorko and a bit over $7 million. From the Cardinals, the Padres are getting Jon Jay. Gyorko lines up to be a utility infielder, perhaps a platoon partner for Kolten Wong. The hope is that he does a little more than Pete Kozma or, earlier, Daniel Descalso. The Padres wanted out from under Gyorko’s long-term contract. Jay lines up to be a semi-regular outfielder, perhaps a platoon partner for Melvin Upton. He’s a free agent in a year, and the Padres seem unlikely to contend, and the Cardinals included Jay to offset some more money. Based on the intent of this deal, it’s forgettable. It’s an exchange of money and role players.

The shame, if you want to call it that, is both Gyorko and Jay are interesting. And I mean beyond just being professional ballplayers. Neither will be treated as much, but there are points of significance here. Jay has an interesting background. Gyorko might still have an interesting future.

Take Gyorko. He’s already used as a cautionary tale — sometimes, those long-term extensions for young players don’t work out to be so team-friendly. He was good as a rookie. He’s been a lot less good since. His best OBP has been .301. He’s dealt with plantar fasciitis. Here we are, with the Padres paying their way out of Gyorko’s deal. If there’s one thing the Padres could use, it’s cost-controlled young talent.

Yet there’s a way to make Gyorko look more appealing. His 2014 was a nightmare, but he was only dreadful before hitting the DL with his foot problem, and he was a good hitter after getting healthy. Then he got off to another bad start in 2015, earning a demotion to Triple-A, but when he came back — over the equivalent of half a season — he hit .262/.303/.430. From Brooks Baseball, you can see a clear difference in his spray charts: after returning from the minors, Gyorko remembered how to pull the ball with power.

gyorko

Most recently, then, Gyorko’s been fine at the plate, with power to make up for his modest on-base skills. He looked like what he was as a rookie, and beyond that, the Padres gave him more than a few reps at shortstop. Though he wasn’t great, he didn’t embarrass himself; though it was partially out of team desperation, Gyorko now looks like he can count versatility among his selling points. He’s handled second, short, and third, and he’s only 27, controlled through 2020 if that’s what a team wants.

It seems, in other words, like Gyorko might be on to something. Like he might be getting back on track. Which makes him interesting, but then, in St. Louis, he doesn’t line up to play all that often, so it’s not like they’re going to give him 600 plate appearances just to see what he can do. He’s not going to start over Kolten Wong. He’s not going to start over Jhonny Peralta or Matt Carpenter. Gyorko right now looks like a pinch-hitter, an injury replacement, and a right-side platoon partner. Without a chance to fully bounce back, Gyorko can only accomplish so much. Just — it doesn’t seem like he’s finished. There could be a buy-low thing going on here.

Jay is a little less interesting, if only because he’s got one year left before he’s a free agent. Also, he’s coming up on his 31st birthday, so we’ve probably seen the best of what he has to offer. I don’t think the Padres are looking at Jay and figuring he can be a big part of a 2016 playoff push. But here’s what we can say — it looks like Jay’s 2015 was torpedoed by problems with his wrist. Every year before that, he was an above-average hitter, and he’s played mostly center field. The numbers we have think he’s been just fine out there, with decent range to offset an objectively lousy arm.

Jay’s never had a strong bat — when healthy, he trafficked in contact that was just good enough. But there’s no arguing it worked for him. Take the five-year window between his rookie season and his 2014. Over that span, Jay posted a .345 BABIP. Throughout baseball history, 1,285 players have batted at least 2,000 times between ages 25 and 29. Jay ranks 35th by BABIP, tied with Kenny Lofton. That puts him in the top three percent. With his swing compromised last year, Jay lost the BABIP, so his line was terrible. He couldn’t do anything, to any part of the field. But if Jay’s recovered, his numbers should recover. And then he’s a decent hitter who’s a decent center fielder. That’s a decent player, costing less than $7 million.

Call it a dual buy-low. The Cardinals are taking a chance on a bounceback middle infielder. The Padres are taking a chance on a bounceback center fielder. The Cardinals might have more to gain from this move, just because of how long Gyorko is controlled, but the Padres will also save money, and if Jay rebounds well he could fetch something at the deadline if the team drops out of the race. Could be, the Padres know something about Gyorko’s medicals. Could be, the Cardinals know something about Jay’s medicals. There’s a reason this isn’t being treated as a big deal.

Could be I just always prefer to think about the upside. It’s the unkillable optimist in me. And if you always linger on the upside, you’ll frequently end up disappointed, because upside isn’t something all players reach. But I do think Jay should bounce back. And I do think Gyorko could be more than a backup. I suppose they’ll have to earn their chances. There’s nothing horribly wrong with that.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Xolo
6 years ago

Gyorko has extreme R/L splits. A platoon situation is probably best for him.

Rick Sanchez
6 years ago
Reply to  Xolo

So does Matt Adams…