Cubs sign outfielder Jay, who likely will share job with Almora

SHARE Cubs sign outfielder Jay, who likely will share job with Almora
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Jon Jay catches a fly ball at Wrigley Field last season. (Jon Durr/Getty Images)

Jon Jay? You don’t say.

The Cubs and Jay, a veteran outfielder who will be 32 on Opening Day, agreed Tuesday to a one-year contract worth a reported $8 million.

Jay has played seven major league seasons — his first six with the Cubs’ rivals in St. Louis — primarily as a center fielder. He can play all three outfield spots, but he’s known for his stellar glove work in the middle of the outfield. Jay’s career fielding percentage in center is .996, the highest mark for any active player (minimum 500 games) at the position.

Bigger picture: The move solidifies months-long speculation that the Cubs will lose the services of popular center fielder Dexter Fowler, one of the heroes of the team’s drive to the World Series title. While Cubs fans come to terms with saying goodbye to “Dex,” the 30-year-old Fowler — a first-time All-Star in 2016 who tied for the team’s postseason lead with three home runs and 11 runs scored — will be seeking a lucrative, multiyear deal elsewhere.

“Incredible, man,” Fowler said during the playoffs of his two seasons on the North Side. “Cubbies fans always show me the love, and they know I love them.”

How much Jay plays during the season to come will have a lot to do with the ongoing development of Albert Almora Jr., the team’s first-round draft pick in 2012 and a solid contributor off the bench during the 2016 regular season and playoffs. The right-handed-hitting Almora is considered a potential Gold Glove-level talent in center field and could have more upside offensively than the left-handed Jay.

For now, the clear expectation is that Almora and Jay will share the position.

Jay is a career .287 hitter with 31 home runs, 253 RBI and 374 runs scored. His OPS (.737) and stolen-base (45) totals are modest, though he is coming off a strong season in San Diego. Over 90 games with the Padres, he hit .291 with 26 doubles. Jay missed all of July and August after breaking his right forearm on a pitch thrown by the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez.

Jay batted .300 in 105 games as a Cardinals rookie in 2010. He hit a career-high .305 in 2012, finishing 10th in the National League. He also posted a .303 average in 2014.

In 112 big-league at-bats last season, Almora hit .277 with three home runs and posted a .763 OPS. In 80 games at Triple-A Iowa last season, he hit .303 with 43 RBI and stole 10 bases.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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