Cardinals avoid arbitration hearings with Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos

USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals avoid arbitration hearings with Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. Jay will receive $3.25 million in 2014. Bourjos is set to receive $1.2 million in 2014 with $150,000 in incentives.

Just after 9 AM central this morning, Joel Sherman, a baseball columnist for the New York Post, reported big news via Twitter. The Cardinals avoided arbitration with last year's starting center fielder, Jon Jay, and will pay him $3.25 million next season (a one-year deal).

2013 was a down year for the 28 year old center fielder—both at the plate and in the field. If you know the type of person Jay is, he would be the first one to admit that. Both his wOBA (.341 to .319) and wRC+ (117 to 104) decreased significantly from where they were in 2012. His UZR was second to last in the majors among qualified center fielders at -7.3. However, despite the obvious decline in the mentioned areas, Jay still manufactured a 1.9 fWAR—sixth on the team in terms of position players and just 0.1 less than slugging right fielder, Carlos Beltran.

Back in Novemeber, MLB Trade Rumors projected Jay's 2014 salary to be $3.4 million after arbitration, so it appears the Cardinals reached a fair deal with Mr. "High Sock Sunday." Four seasons into his career (three as a starter), Jay has amassed 9.3 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs—2.3 WAR per season. I have seen reports that one win above replacement is currently valued at $5.45 million on the free agent market. I'll admit, this number is largely inflated by agents looking to get more money for their clients. Even if the true value is slightly lower than that, $3.25 million for a 2+ WAR per season player appears to be quite the value.

As I wrote this post, another notable tweet from Sherman came across my timeline:

Bourjos will receive $1.2 million and potentially $150,000 more based on the number of plate appearances in 2014. MLB Trade Rumors projected his 2014 salary to be $1.1 million, so it appears Mozeliak made the right deal here as well. Thus, the Cardinals will be paying roughly $4.5 million for their center fielders this season. Mike Matheny informed the media that the center fielder job will be an open competition in Spring Training. However, if Bourjos' wrist is fully healed, I find it hard to believe that this is the case. Mozeliak dealt David Freese to the Angels in hopes of getting their long-term center fielder in Bourjos.

However, one cannot forget two things about Jay. He has a more than respectable .293/.356/.400 career slash line and was actually 6th in the MLB in center field UZR at 3.7 back in 2012. This is obviously nowhere near the UZR Bourjos is capable of putting up, but does his offense pick up where his defense lacks? Was Jay's poor performance in 2013 a fluke or is his career already in decline at the age of 28?

I, along with just about everyone in Cardinal Nation, predict Bourjos will be the opening day center fielder. However, wrist injuries are scary, and if for whatever reason Bourjos' bat doesn't come around like the Cardinals expect it to, Jay, at just $3.25 million, will be a valuable replacement for the position. If Bourjos performs the way the organization expects, then Jay is a perfect fourth outfielder until Oscar Taveras proves he's ready and healthy for the big league level. If all these pieces fall into place, Jay will be a perfect trade chip at the deadline. With all the question marks attached to the health of both Bourjos and Taveras, Jay is the depth the team needs, at the right price.

To add one more piece to the discussion puzzle, Colby Rasmus and the Blue Jays agreed to a one year, $7 million contract this morning. I don't mean to use Rasmus as a direct comparison to Bourjos/Jay, but I figured it was an inevitable part of the discussion. Below, I provided a chart with the respective 2014 WAR projections of the players directly involved in today's deals as well as Rasmus:

Player

Oliver

Steamer

ZiPS

Jon Jay

2.3

1.2

1.8

Peter Bourjos

3.8

2.6

2.3

Jay + Bourjos

6.1

3.8

4.1

Colby Rasmus

3.5

3.3

N/A

The Oliver projections aren't the best to use as a comparator because they project players based on getting 600 plate appearances which obviously is not possible for both Jay and Bourjos in 2014. However, Steamer took decreased playing time into account when projecting Jay's numbers—giving him 255 plate appearances. ZiPS projected Jay to get 570 PAs (which will likely be lower) and Bourjos to get 385 (the Cardinals' front office hopes this is a low estimate).

Next, I will take a look at the value of each player based on the projections and their 2014 salaries. For the sake of this post, let's use the Steamer projections since they take into account fewer plate appearances for Jay. Jay and Bourjos, combined, will make $4.45 million and are projected a 3.8 WAR. Rasmus is set to make $7 million and is projected a 3.3 WAR. Using division, the Cardinals will be paying the Bourjos/Jay combination $1.17 million per WAR; whereas, the Blue Jays will be paying Rasmus $2.12 million per WAR.

I purposely will not make any concrete conclusions from this post or the above table because I think it would be much more beneficial to have a discussion about it within the VEB community. I have my opinion, and I look forward to hearing yours as well.

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