Jon Jay has spring in his step

When visiting St. Louis this week, Cardinals center fieldp:BC body copy 1st grapher Jon Jay spent some time at Busch Stadium, passed by the clubhouse, chatted with teammate Lance Lynn and felt that familiar sensation of “being ready for the season to start.”

Being ready for spring training, however, has to come first.

Jay came to St. Louis to meet with the surgeon who repaired his left wrist and gain clearance to increase his workouts and, in the coming weeks, swing a bat with intent. The Cardinals outfielder had a ligament repaired in the wrist at the end of last season, and he expects to start spring training in late February without limitations. The Cardinals intend to start the regular season with Jay as the everyday center fielder. That’s the role he has had to compete for in previous springs but one he has earned “moving forward with his performance,” general manager John Mozeliak has said.

“It’s obviously good to hear those words from the manager and from upper management,” Jay said after his visit. “But nothing changes for me. If there’s anything I’ve learned here is nothing’s given. You still have to perform. It doesn’t matter what they say. It does matter what you do after they say it.”

Jay, 29, is one of four Cardinals who are eligible for arbitration, and all must exchange formal salary requests with the club by Friday. That deadline, which sets the figures for an arbitration hearing, has already spurred agreements around baseball between players and their teams. The Cardinals have had discussions with Jay’s agent and the other players’ representatives to see if a deal can be struck. The Cardinals have talks set for Thursday with agents.

It’s possible that the team and Peter Bourjos will have an agreement before the deadline. Jay expressed optimism about his agent’s talks with the Cardinals. Backup catcher Tony Cruz is going through the arbitration process for the first time. The Cardinals and Lynn’s representative have expressed a mutual interest in exploring a multiyear deal as he reaches arbitration for the first time.

This is Jay’s second turn through arbitration, and he made $3.25 million as a result last year. He and Lynn are set to see the biggest raises. Jay claimed the starting job in center with a .303 average and a .372 on-base percentage. Jay hit .483 in the playoffs.

The Cardinals have previously expressed a willingness to go year-to-year with Jay, who would become a free agent after 2016. He’s open to a multiyear contract, he said.

“I would love to be a Cardinal for as long as possible,” Jay said. “Hopefully, something like that can happen. This is all I know. From my perspective there’s not a better place to play.”

Jay is one of a handful of Cardinals who had surgery at the end of the season to address nagging ailments. Bourjos, who was acquired a year ago to vie with Jay for the starting job in center, had surgery on his hip. He will meet with a team doctor in St. Louis on Friday to determine if he can push his rehab. He has been running on a treadmill without discomfort, something he couldn’t do before the surgery. Bourjos said he may be able to start hitting as soon as Monday.

Jay came earlier in the week for his checkup because he has a friend’s wedding to attend and will miss the team’s annual fanfest.

After surgery in October, Jay spent six weeks in a cast. Dr. Charles Goldfarb met with Jay on Monday and gave him permission to increase his workouts, Jay said. The start of spring training is a week later this season, and that gives Jay time to strengthen his wrist and start hitting only a few weeks after he normally would.

Despite limiting his batting practice to protect the wrist, Jay hit .325 in August and September, and he had his best postseason average. He had only one extra-base hit in the postseason and seven total in his final 189 at-bats of the year.

“It was grinding, grinding through it,” he said.

Jay started the increased workouts immediately at Busch Stadium on Monday. He said the familiarity of the place brought back that sense of a season fast approaching.

There will be differences, though.

From a tight group of five Cardinals who grew up together at Class AAA Memphis, only Jay and Cruz remain Cardinals. David Freese and Allen Craig have been traded. Daniel Descalso, Jay’s closest friend, signed with Colorado. They are still close, connected by texts. Jay and Descalso vacationed together. This week, Jay intends to spend time with Craig in California. Playing “with the same guys forever isn’t going to happen,” Jay said. Salaries rise. Trades happen. The business of baseball marches on.

Change happens.

“You have to understand what can happen in this game, nothing is set, how expectations are always high around this organization,” Jay said. He added, wryly: “I’m excited about having a healthy wrist and the same batting stance for two years in a row.”

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