The San Diego Padres’ outfield of the future looks pretty crowded. While A.J. Preller has largely been stockpiling arms, several of his dozens of trades have brought talented outfielders to the organization, and at least five have a shot at a spot on the big-league roster next season. Why then, are the Padres expressing an interest in re-signingJon Jay
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Travis Jankowski and Alex Dickerson have played significant time for San Diego the latter half of the current season, and have made big strides toward establishing themselves as capable big-league starters. Hunter Renfroe looks likely to put the finishing touches on a .300/30/100 season at El Paso before his September call-up. Jabari Blash remains one of the more intriguing prospects because of his light-tower power. And AAA center fielder Manuel Margot among the top prospects in all of baseball.
Dennis Lin of the U-T reports that the Padres are interested in Jay, the injured center fielder who will be a free agent at the end of the year. While Jay has expressed an interest in staying in San Diego, we’ve heard that story before. We know what happens when talented Padres hit the free agent market, at least since the exceptional T. Gwynn spent his 20 years in SoCal. It’s hasta la bye-bye when the lure of large contacts with teams competing for World Series crowns loom on the horizon.
But the Padres should make a strong effort to keep Jay in the blue, white, and yellow (or whatever color scheme comes next year). Because Jay is the kind of player that Matt Kemp wasn’t. That James Shields wasn’t. That Derek Norris isn’t, at least not yet. Jay understands that veterans need to do more than show up, do their routine, and play hard. They need to pass on their baseball knowledge to the rookies, to the talented youngsters who will ultimately determine the success of the organization in the near-to-mid future.
Jay came up with a Cardinals team that is famous for its system of integrating the young with the experienced. And he has already taken on the role of mentor with Jankowski.
Jankowski credits Jay for much of his growth as an everyday player. Jay, on the DL since mid-June with a forearm fracture, has continued traveling with the team, and is often found counseling Jankowski on the bench. He has a way of teaching that resonates with the young CF, who said of his conversations with Jay: “I’ve made some baserunning errors this year. It’s never ‘why’d you do that?’ It’s ‘hey, man, what was going on in your head there?’ … He really picks out the finer points of the game and wants you to master every aspect.”
The Padres’ current rebuild isn’t geared toward putting a contender on the field in 2017. It’s going to take a few seasons for the current crop of international free agents and amateur draftees to populate the major league roster. If the Padres want this group to be the one that finally takes San Diego to the promised land, they’ll need to know how. And Jay has been there, winning a ring with the Cardinals in 2011 and going back to the Series in 2013.
In order to convince Jay to stay, the Padres will likely need to stress Jay’s role as a mentor, and hope the 31-year old is far enough along in his career to choose a leadership role on a young and talented team with potential over joining a team ready to win right now. It’s a tough sell, but if Jay is thinking about a managerial position after his playing days end, this might be the right situation at the right time.
Jay is exactly what the Padres need in the immediate future.