On December 8, 2015 The St. Louis Cardinals stole Jedd Gyorko and $7.5MM from A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres.
On March 2nd, 2016, the St. Louis Cardinals inked Kolten Wong to a 5-year extension worth over $25 million. The deal also included an option for the following year worth $12.5 million. The Cardinals wanted to make something clear: Kolten Wong was their man at second base.
That’s why it came as a bit of a surprise when it was announced that the Cards were sending their well-liked OF Jon Jay to San Diego in exchange for IF Jedd Gyorko. St. Louis had already committed to Wong at second, and Matt Carpenter was their man at third. Jhonny Peralta was still healthy at the time, and with Aledmys Diaz waiting behind him, the shortstop position appeared to be set.
Infield depth can never hurt, but Gyorko had $33 million remaining on his contract. That’s a lot to take on for a utility player who is projected to come off the bench. In 2013, Gyorko’s rookie season, only 12 rookies made over 400 plate appearances and he was one of them. By making himself useful at second base and shortstop, the versatile 24 year-old earned 525 trips to the plate.
Of those 12 players, only Yasiel Puig posted a higher OPS than Gyorko’s .745. Jedd’s 23 home runs put him at the top of that list, and he finished 6th in NL ROY voting. The following year, San Diego lost sight of what makes Gyorko so valuable. He only started 106 games that year, and all of them were at second. The sophomore slump got the best of him, and he hit just 10 home runs while his OPS dropped to .612.
Despite the drop-off, San Diego inked Gyorko to a 6-year $35 million extension. The Padres decided to utilize his versatility again in 2015. They swung him him to either side of second base and even started him at first in a game. His production increased but he couldn’t return to his rookie form. He failed to clear 20 HR’s or post an OPS above .700 for the second straight year.
Gyorko had value, that much was clear, but the Padres apparently felt some buyer’s remorse and seemed eager to move him. So eager in fact, that not only did they agree to a straight up trade for the offensively-limited Jay, but they also offered to pay $7.5 of his remaining salary. I like Jon Jay, but injuries in 2015 led to a .210 average—.044 lower than the league average that year—and only one home run.
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The St. Louis Cardinals must have seen in Gyorko what former Padres GM Josh Byrnes did when he drafted him 59th overall in 2010, and then extended his contract. With the cash in place, the Cards felt comfortable grabbing a utility guy to plug the potential holes of their 2016 infield. They would get more than they paid for though. A lot more.
It appears that the Cardinals have tapped into his full potential as a top flight utility man. St. Louis has started Gyorko at all four spots in the infield, and he’s the first player in franchise history to go deep from each of those positions. Gyorko has played in 38 more games than Jay in 2016, and his OPS of .800 is .082 points higher. Jay has a WAR of just 0.8 this year, compared to Gyorko’s 2.7.
In the 8th inning of a 3-3 game against the Pirates on Saturday, Gyorko launched his 30th home run of the year—breaking the 30 mark for the first time in his career, and propelling the Cardinals to victory. With one game remaining, a St. Louis Cardinals loss and a win for San Francisco would have officially ended the season. But Gyorko’s latest heroics have kept the flame burning for at least one more day.
Injuries at every infield position—combined with Wong’s disappointing season—have put the Cardinals in a tough spot. One they would not have survived without the multifaceted Gyorko. A.J. Preller has made plenty of mistakes since taking over in San Diego, but this one has to be near the top of the list. That was no ordinary trade; that was straight up robbery.