Jon Jay, Cards agree on his 2013 contract

JUPITER, Fla. • Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay signed a contract with the club this morning for the 2013 season, but the conversations could have been much different if only for five more days of service time.

Jay fell that many days shy of being eligible for arbitration.

As a result, Jay fell into the cluster of players on the Cardinals' 40-man roster with less than three years of service time. Unlike an arbitration-eligible player, who can use that process to increase his salary, players with less than three years of service time have no leverage during the process.

The team can enter into negotiations in good faith, but if a deal isn't agreed upon by the deadline — which arrives in early March — the team has the right to impose a salary on the player.

Jay made $504,000 last year as the returning center fielder from a World Series team. Terms of his new deal were not immediately known, but he will be one of the highest-paid players for the Cardinals with less than three years of service time in recent years.

Jay took over as the team's leadoff hitter last season and finished the year with a .305 average and a .375 on-base percentage in 117 games. He scored 70 runs for the Cardinals.

From an article that ran in October about Jay falling just short of the arbitration rights that, for example, teammate David Freese used to command a raise from around $500,000 to more than $3 million for the coming season:

Last month, the center fielder heard from his agent that he would fall less than a week shy of qualifying for arbitration this winter. This week it was announced that "Super Two" status was given to the players between two and three years of experience with the top 22 percent of service time.

Under the agreement between the union and the leagues last November, the bar this offseason was set at two years, 139 days. Jay has two years, 134 days. Those five days mean Jay won't have access to arbitration to raise his salary for 2013 and the Cardinals will have control of him for another four seasons.

"I came into the year knowing the situation. It doesn't change anything for me," Jay said. "I don't take anything for granted. I know how this game is. You've seen it a lot with guys in other years. You're in. You're out. I work hard to stay consistent. That stuff takes care of itself."

The Cardinals are working their way through the contracts for the players with less than three years of service time who are on the 40-man roster. That group includes first baseman Allen Craig, second baseman Daniel Descalso, and starting candidates Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly.

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