The St. Louis Cardinals reached early agreements with each of their arbitration-eligible players before the first post-tender salary-arbitration deadline—every player except for Jon Jay that is. The Cardinals and Jay were unable to reach an agreement to avoid the deadline to exchange proposed 2015 salaries. Both parties took the next step in the salary-arbitration process. St. Louis proposed a $4.1 million 2015 salary for the outfielder; Jay submitted $5 million.
Looking around that other such proposed salary gulfs, the $900,000 gap between the Cardinals seemed bridgeable. After all David Freese submitted $7.6 million to the Angels’ $5.25 million. Los Angeles of Anaheim and Freese met in the middle over a week ago, agreeing to a $6.425 million 2015 salary for the third baseman. If the Angels and Freese could find common ground in the middle of a $2.35 million difference in proposed salary, what was taking the Cardinals and Jay, with their much smaller $900,000 fissure so long to sign a deal and avoid an either-or arbitration hearing? Turns out the two sides were working on something bigger.
The Cardinals and Jay agreed to a two-year contract on Monday, one that avoids a salary-arbitration hearing for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The Cards will guarantee Jay, who is entering his age-30 season, a two-year major-league contracts, as opposed to going year to year via the arbitration process. Per Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, the total value of the contract is $10.975 million with the following breakdown: $1.25 million signing bonus; $3.5 million guaranteed in 2015; and $6.225 million guaranteed in 2016. If there was any doubt that general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny meant what they said when they declared Jay the primary center fielder immediately after the club's five-game NLCS loss to the Giants, such has now been erased.
The Cardinals had Jay under club control for 2015 and 2016 regardless, so St. Louis has guaranteed Jay two years of salary when the organization didn’t have to do so. And the Cards are doing so in the winter after a good offensive season, fueled by a BABIP over less than 500 PA, that is likely unsustainable and a season removed from seeing fit to trade Freese (and Fernando Salas) for two potential replacements in center field: Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.
Looking at the total value of Jay’s two-year deal, it doesn’t appear that the Cards have not saved all that much money by agreeing to its terms.
MLB Trade Rumors, via their salary-arbitration projection tool, forecast Jay to earn $4.5 million in 2015. Add the signing bonus to Jay’s 2015 salary under the contract, and his Year 1 earnings are $4.75 million. If we use the common knowledge shorthand of arbitration-eligible salary breakdown—that a player earns about 40% of what he’d get on the free-agent market in the first year, roughly 60% in the second, and 80% in the third—Jay’s $6.225 million for 2016 is perhaps a bit of a discount. However, it's not any great savings that merits giving Mozeliak a pat on the back the next time you see him. The nearly $11 million in salary over the next two years feels about on par for what the Cards would have forked over going through salary arbitration again next winter.
The two-year contract is a shoulder-shrug-inducing deal from a financial standpoint. Adding an eyebrow raise to the shoulder shrug is Jay’s hollow batting line, which is wholly dependent on hitting for a high average. It leaves me hoping that Jay can continue to post sky-high BABIPs as he begins his 30s. I don't know if that's a two-year, $10.975 million bet that I'd place—no matter how great a person and teammate Jay is.