Cards land Gyorko, deal Jay to Padres
Trade gives St. Louis added depth across infield
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Cardinals addressed their need for a utility infielder by acquiring Jedd Gyorko from the Padres on Tuesday for outfielder Jon Jay.
As part of the deal, the Cardinals are also receiving about $7.5 million from the Padres, according to a source, to help offset the $32 million Gyorko is owed over the next four seasons. He signed a six-year extension with the Padres in April 2014, just a year after his Major League debut.
That contract also includes a $13 million club option for 2020 that comes with an attached $1 million buyout.
With Jay's $6.225 million salary coming off the books in the deal, the Cardinals were content with the financial commitment to a player who will enter the season serving as the primary backup at multiple positions.
"The exciting thing for us is that [Gyorko] gives us that flexibility," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We've approached the offseason with chasing some bigger things, of course, but also knowing that if we could make some small, incremental differences to the club, in the end that would pay off."
While the move filled a need the Cardinals identified early on in the Hot Stove season, Gyorko acknowledged being surprised to learn that he was that solution.
"I didn't see it coming," said Gyorko, a second-round pick by the Padres in the 2010 Draft. "In San Diego the last three years, I haven't played a meaningful game in September. … The opportunity [with the Cardinals], as far as that goes, winning 100 games, going to the playoffs, I think that's a pretty good opportunity."
Gyorko has a career slash line of .236/.293/.395 in his three Major League seasons, and he hit 16 homers, drove in 57 runs and posted a .694 OPS over 421 at-bats in 2015. He made 76 of his 104 starts at second base, but was demoted to Triple-A for three weeks in June after hitting .210/.282/.311 over his first 46 games of the season.
His production improved upon returning, as Gyorko hit .262/.303/.430 with 14 home runs in the 82 games he played after being recalled.
"Sometimes playing at Petco [Park], you try to do a little bit too much," Gyorko said. "It's a big field and can be a tough place to hit, a place that kind of gets in your head. Sometimes you try to get overly aggressive. When I stepped back and kind of let the game come to me and put good swings [on pitches], I think the results showed that it worked out pretty well.
"Obviously, no one ever wants to get sent down. But at the time, I wasn't getting consistent at-bats, and I think that's what I needed at the time. I needed to get down and see live pitching and get my swing back to where it needed to be."
Not only is Gyorko now free from pitcher-friendly Petco, but he lands at Busch Stadium, where he has hit .262/.311/.429 with two homers in 11 career games.
With no obvious fit for Jay in the team's 2016 plans, the Cardinals opened the offseason exploring potential trade partners for the center fielder. Several interested suitors emerged, among them the Padres, who, in offering the Cardinals an answer to their utility infield search, became the perfect match.
The Cardinals did not acquire Gyorko to supplant Kolten Wong at second base, but rather complement him there, as that is Gyorko's most comfortable position. Gyorko's production against left-handed pitching (a career .776 OPS) will offer a balance with the left-handed-hitting Wong, whose splits trend the other direction
How playing time is split among the two will be determined by production, though Wong still sits atop the depth chart for now.
"We believe he's got really exciting upside," Mozeliak said of Wong, two years younger than the 27-year-old Gyorko. "I think we saw it last year, and I think having a little bit of more experience under his belt is going to help him continue to grow. But this is what competition is about. And knowing that you have this player in your camp and on your club, he can push."
Gyorko also started 28 games at shortstop in 2015 and played some third base in the Minor Leagues. The Cardinals were hopeful of landing an infielder who could provide backup at all three positions along with in-house infielder Greg Garcia.
Jay, 30, hit .287/.354/.384 with 29 homers, 227 RBIs and 325 runs scored over six seasons and 757 games with the Cardinals, who selected him in the second round in the 2006 Draft.