Assuming the Cleveland Indians do not bring back Rajai Davis — which is a fairly big assumption — where does that leave the outfield? At best, it’s Michael Brantley in left, Tyler Naquin in center, and a mix of Lonnie Chisenhall and Brandon Guyer in right. Abraham Almonte as a fourth/fifth-ish outfielder?
The corners are set if Brantley can stay healthy, but center field is terrifying. Without even getting into defense, there is no way Tyler Naquin should be hitting against left-handed pitching. It’s an issue that has plagued him his entire minor-league career, and it isn’t likely to change now that major-league pitchers know how to beat him so easily. Maybe he will adjust, but what if there is an option out there to protect against him failing to do so? Enter Jon Jay.
Jon Jay is not the sexiest free agent, not even the sexiest outfield free agent, but neither were Rajai Davis or Mike Napoli last offseason.
After a six-year career of playing in St. Louis Cardinal red, Jay ventured to the West Coast and spent the season with the San Diego Padres, playing in 90 games around a broken forearm suffered in June. Even with the injury, he slashed .291/.339/.389 for a wRC+ of 100 with the Padres.
Jay’s defense dipped in the small sample size of one year, but over the last three seasons his UZR is 7.6 in center field, 18th among major-leaguer center fielders in that span. It’s not elite-level defense, but it’s prbably better than Naquin with a bat that can play against right-handed and left-handed pitching.
Any outfielder signed this offseason is likely just a bridge to Bradley Zimmer or, at worst, Greg Allen in a couple years. Jay is coming off of a two-year deal worth $11 million, which is around what he should be getting this offseason — the perfect length to either cover for another year of development for Bradley Zimmer, or to even deal Jay at the deadline if Zimmer is ready earlier than expected.