The St. Louis Cardinals stated a need earlier in the offseason for a more established player in the infield to spell the overworked Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals went after Ben Zobrist for a time, but as Zobrist sought a regular full-time job and the bidding headed to four years, the Cardinals did not seem to be a great match for the sought-after free agent. The Cardinals set their sights elsewhere and found a match in Jedd Gyorko, who, though primarily a second baseman, also has experience playing third base and shortstop. To get Gyorko to St. Louis, the Cardinals sent Jon Jay to San Diego. The deal for Gyorko was first reported by Jon Morosi, with a source telling Derrick Goold that Jon Jay is the return for the Padres.
Source: Jon Jay is going to San Diego. https://t.co/9GHVvrxqDV— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) December 8, 2015
The Padres are also sending the Cardinals cash to offset the $33 million owed to Gyorko over the next four seasons ($4 M, $6 M, $9 M, $13 M, $1 M buyout of $13 M option).
Some confusion over Gyorko money. Club source: Padres will pay STL $7.5MM over term of contract. Gyorko owed $33M, including 2020 buyout.— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) December 8, 2015
Update: This story previous linked to a tweet indicating the money the Cardinals were receiving was $17 million. The tweet above corrects that amount.
For next season, Gyorko's $4 million salary is actually less than the $6.225 Jon Jay is scheduled to make this season.
Gyorko had a very good season as a rookie in San Diego hitting .249/.301/.444 with a 110 wRC+ and 23 home runs. The right-hander does not walk much or hit for a high average, making power his calling card and principal source of value. The Padres signed him to an extension the following spring, but his play cratered. He hit just .210/.280/.333 for an atrocious 77 wRC+ in 443 plate appearances.
Gyorko's downward trend worsened at the beginning of last season, hitting just .210/.282/.311 over the first couple months of the season, leading to a demotion. He was called back up to the majors at the end of June and hit fairly well over the course of the rest of the season, hitting .262/.303/.430 with a wRC+ of 103 and 14 home runs in 327 plate appearances to end the season. For his career, he has hit better against lefties, with a .260/.335/.441 and 120 wRC+ in just 331 plate appearances (which is not enough to draw any conclusions, but a walk rate at nearly ten percent is more encouraging than his overall batting line).
The power is nice, but his low average coupled with a below average walk rate keep Gyorko from being anything more than average offensively. For a bench bat in the middle infield, that is perfectly acceptable. Gyorko has been slightly below average at second base in his career defensively, and could not start long-term at shortstop should Peralta get injured, but might be able to fill in from time to time.
The Padres wanted to get out from under Gyorko's contract, and the Cardinals were willing to accomodate those wishes. Jon Jay deserves more than this piece will provide given his time and production with the Cardinals, but with Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham, and Mike Matheny's general preference to play Jon Jay whenever given the opportunity, the trade clears the way for the Cardinals to get younger and more athletic in center field next season.
The Cardinals expressed a desire to find better options in the infield to rest their starters and prevent overworking starters. Jedd Gyorko should provide decent bench production, and given the money San Diego is kicking in, he will be paid like a bench player in St. Louis. The move accomplishes one of the Cardinals' stated goals and now it will be up to Mike Matheny to deploy Gyorko appropriately next season.