I love Jon Jay. Relative to fan opinion on him, he might be my favorite Cardinal ever. Even as he struggled to a 57 wRC+ in 2015, I had no regrets owning a now-wildly ill-fitting Jon Jay shirsey.
He was a survivor. He outlasted Ryan Ludwick. He outlasted Colby Rasmus. He outlasted Shane Robinson. In a photo finish, he even outlasted Peter Bourjos.
But now, Jon Jay is a San Diego Padre. And it's for the best.
The truth is that Jon Jay simply didn't have a role with the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals. I always fancied that Jay could be a perfect bench outfielder-aside from last season, when he was hobbled with injuries, Jon Jay is a solid contact hitter who is at least serviceable at all three defensive positions in the outfield.
But, even if you were to assume a lack of Jason Heyward (I said if! Please don't hurt me!), Jay was likely to sit behind at least five outfielders-Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, and Brandon Moss. He is, at his best, a jack of all trades, but a master of none, and thus he had limited value at a pinch hitter, runner, or fielder.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals acquired Jedd Gyorko, as well as some relief for the salary left on his contract. Gyorko, 27, was above average in 2013 but has teetered around replacement level during the last two seasons. And while he would be a dubious long-term solution at second base, Gyorko could be a promising role player if utilized properly.
This is, admittedly, an if. And in spite of some platoon opportunities in years past, Mike Matheny has been hesitant to implement them. There was a logical one at his disposal in 2014 at second base, after the Cardinals signed veteran Mark Ellis, but Ellis struggled mightily, tallying a meager 31 wRC+ on the season, including a 33 wRC+ against the lefties against whom he could have theoretically platooned. For those unfamiliar with what constitutes a good or bad wRC+: do you remember how bad Jon Jay was at the plate in 2015? His season wRC+ was 57. In his much-maligned offensive 2013, Pete Kozma had a 49.
But Jedd Gyorko's platoon splits may simply be too favorable to ignore, especially as Kolten Wong has struggled against lefties. In 178 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in 2015, Wong had a triple-slash line of .229/.275/.277 for a wRC+ of 52. For his career, he's at .248/.282/.325, with a 69 wRC+. Meanwhile, while Gyorko has been a worse overall player than Wong (Wong leads 4.3-0.1 in Baseball Reference WAR since 2014, 4.2-0.7 in Fangraphs WAR), Gyorko excels where Wong has struggled: hitting southpaws. In 2015, Gyorko triple-slashed .282/.358/.445 for a wRC+ of 126; for his career, he has triple-slashed .260/.335/.441 for a wRC+ of 120.
Assuming a normal ratio of righty to lefty pitchers faced, a platoon of 2015 Kolten Wong (114 wRC+ vs. RHP) and Jedd Gyorko should manage a wRC+ in the neighborhood of 117 to 120. Here is a list of all MLB second baseman who, in 2015, had a wRC+ above 117 with at least 400 plate appearances: Joe Panik, Jason Kipnis, Logan Forsythe, Ben Zobrist, Jose Altuve. Even the great Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia fall just outside this range, at 116.
Of course, platoons don't work out this perfectly. I won't pretend that Wong/Gyorko makes second a position of great strength. But it does make the position stronger. Given his ability to have quality plate appearances against lefties and his ability to provide depth to the infield at large, the $26 million he will be paid by the club through 2019 could be worth it.