The Cubs and Dexter Fowler appear to be heading in opposite directions, with the World Series champs adding Jon Jay to their outfield mix while the “you go, we go” leadoff guy waits to finally land that big, multiyear contract.
This doesn’t automatically slam the door shut on Fowler’s return, a team source said Tuesday after the Cubs finalized Jay’s one-year, $8 million deal. But the Cubs understand it would take something completely unexpected to bring back Fowler, the way they shocked the baseball world in spring training, days after he reportedly agreed to a three-year, $35 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles.
Without that $13 million investment in Fowler, it’s difficult to see the Cubs winning the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years. Fowler took full advantage of the platform, earning his first All-Star selection, getting on base almost 40 percent of the time, hitting 13 homers with 25 doubles and seven triples and setting himself up for a huge payday, even with the added cost of a draft pick after the Cubs made him another qualifying offer (assuming that concept survives this round of collective bargaining).
At the very least, the Cubs figure Jay will fill Chris Coghlan’s role as an extra outfielder and a left-handed hitter off the bench. But the Cubs also envision Jay complementing Albert Almora Jr. in center field and being a strong veteran presence in a clubhouse that will miss retiring catcher David Ross.
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Almora – the first player Theo Epstein’s regime drafted here in 2012 – shared his excitement on his Twitter account: “Pumped for @jonjayU to join the squad!!!! #MiamiBoyz.”
Jay, 31, also grew up in South Florida, going to the University of Miami and developing into a second-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Jay played in 12 postseason series with the Cardinals between 2011 and 2015 and won a World Series ring before getting shipped to the San Diego Padres in the Jedd Gyorko trade last winter.
Jay had surgery on his left wrist before the 2015 season and didn’t look like the same player, hitting .210 and appearing in only 79 games with the Cardinals. He recovered to hit .291 for the Padres, but a broken right forearm limited him to only 90 games.
If Jay can stay healthy, his .352 career on-base percentage and ability to play all three outfield positions should fit in a powerful lineup that values versatility.
Jay – who owns a career .996 fielding percentage in center field, the highest mark for any active player (minimum 500 games) at the position – also joins a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last season.
Jay follows big-game pitcher John Lackey and Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward – who can also play center – as ex-Cardinals who have left St. Louis and switched sides in the rivalry. The next chapter could even see Fowler in Cardinal red, with St. Louis believed to have some interest at the right price.