The Royals solved their outfield conundrum Tuesday by signing free-agent Jon Jay to a one-year contract. They also revealed some troubling news about embattled prospect Bubba Starling and former Athletics starting pitcher Jesse Hahn.
The Royals headed into spring training with three main candidates to man center field: Alex Gordon played 15 games in center field a year ago, Paulo Orlando had made 45 starts over the previous three seasons, and Starling, the former Gardner Edgerton star who was a first-round pick in 2011.
Starling, however, started to experience oblique soreness in the last few days, so the Royals are scaling back his workload in hopes of avoiding injury.
Enter Jay, who signed for $3 million and up to $1.5 million in performance bonuses. He took the 40-man roster spot of Hahn, who was put on the 60-day disabled list because of a right ulnar collateral ligament sprain.
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“I’m prepared to play all three outfield spots,” Jay said. “And you can sprinkle me in at first base if you need to. For me it’s simple: I’ll be ready to work. If my name’s in the lineup, I’m ready to work.”
Jay, 32, batted .296 with 18 doubles, two home runs and 34 RBIs in 141 games with the Cubs in 2017.
In addition to Starling, Gordon and Orlando, manager Ned Yost even mentioned Whit Merrifield as another possible option in center. The list also included Billy Burns, who cleared waivers after being designated for assignment last week, and former Blue Jays All-Star Michael Saunders. Former Tigers outfielder Tyler Collins, who like Saunders was signed to a minor-league contract, also had entered the mix.
But Jay’s signing effectively ended the competition. Jay, who bats left-handed, has much more experience in center. He has appeared in 648 games there over his eight-year career with the Cardinals (2011-15), Padres (2016) and Cubs.
With the Royals, Jay should also see time as a designated hitter, which would give outfielders Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler more time in the field.
“Without knowing him, the more homework I do on him, the more I like him,” Yost said. “The more people I talk to, the more it’s like, wow, this guy brings a lot to the table.”
Meanwhile, Hahn, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in a trade of Brandon Moss, had similar soreness in his throwing elbow in 2015. He pitched through the pain, making five or six starts before alerting the training staff to the problem and landing on the disabled list because of a forearm strain.
But Hahn didn’t keep the soreness to himself this time around. As soon as he completed his latest outing Thursday, when he gave up three earned runs on three hits and one walk in the fourth inning against the Mariners, he let the Royals know.
“Definitely not something I was gonna go back out there and try to throw through,” Hahn said. “There’s no point in doing that right now. It’s really early. Hopefully we were able to catch something soon enough and take control of the situation and hopefully I end up good to go.”
Whether Hahn pursues Tommy John surgery will depend on his progress. He’s already regained full range of motion.
The Royals are seeking a second opinion on the sprain.
“We’re just gonna treat it right now and see how it responds,” Hahn said. “Test it dynamically, so, you know, let it calm down and then get out there, start a throwing program and just take it from there, one step day by day.”