Jedd Gyorko has enormous power for a second baseman and produced some of the most impressive moonshots at Petco Park while playing for the Padres. The problem is that when he wasn’t smashing the ball all the way to Old Town, he was striking out or flying out or grounding into double plays.
He’s like the most interesting man of hitting; he doesn’t always hit the baseball, but when he does he prefers to never see that poor thing anywhere near him again. Sometimes it was questionable if he actually saw the ball in the first place, though. Over three seasons in San Diego, Gyorko played 364 major league games and struck out 330 times while drawing only 96 walks.
His inability to get on base at even a somewhat respectable rate is a big reason why the Padres decided to trade him to the Cardinals for Jon Jay. And after the way he started 2015, I would have been quite pleased to see the Padres trade him and get anything in return for him, especially when he was sent down to AAA last June. But a funny thing happened after that demotion. He got better.
When he was sent down to AAA he was sporting a .210 batting average and had only hit two home runs. From June 30th, when he returned to San Diego, until the end of the season, Gyorko hit .262/.303/.430 and 14 home runs over 82 games. That’s a better pace than his rookie season, and could be an indication that he’s finally turned a corner.
Will Jedd Gyorko become the next former Padre to leave SD and suddenly play well? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean the Padres were wrong to trade him now. His salary was going to become an increasingly big problem for the Padres, and his fringy defense and outright bad on base percentage probably won’t get much better. While he did play well at the end of 2015, his on base percentage was still only .303. So even if he maintains the power that he rediscovered, he wouldn’t have been a great fit for the Padres who have some power bats but desperately need contact oriented hitters that can contribute defensively. Enter Jon Jay.
Jay is exactly what the Padres need; a contact oriented hitter than can play solid defense in center field. His OBP in 2014 was .372, but that dropped in 2015 to .305 due to a wrist injury that required surgery. He returned in September and struggled mightily, but recovering from a wrist injury can take a while. A return to pre 2015 form is definitely possible for the 30 year old.
A strong season from Jay in 2016 will probably see him leave San Diego as a free agent in 2017, but with Manuel Margot now in the farm, the Padres have their long term answer at center field. Trading several increasingly expensive years of Gyorko, who is at worst well below average and at best a misfit for a team lacking contact hitters, for one year of Jay, who fills team needs offensively and defensively, makes sense. And while the Padres need contact hitters, the Cardinals need power, so the trade makes sense for St. Louis too. You could read into Jay’s injury and wonder if the Cardinals know something we don’t, but even a healthy Jon Jay is a surplus for a Cards team that is lacking pop these days.
Yes, the Padres probably did trade Jedd Gyorko right when he started to not suck, and it’s possible the Cardinals will look back on this trade as a sneaky low buy that pays off down the road. It’s also possible that Gyorko’s good second half of 2015 was just a temporary hot streak, and the Padres will consider themselves lucky to have sold him right before his value eroded completely. Either way, Jay and Gyorko are the types of players that at their best will address the needs of their new clubs better than the needs of their old clubs. Which is worth remembering next season when you see highlights of Gyorko hitting bombs out of Busch Stadium.