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Why the Oakland Athletics should hang onto Sonny Gray

Many have advocated trading 25 year-old ace Sonny Gray for some plethora of young prospects. But that's not the best move for the A's franchise - for now, or for the future.

The future could be bright in Oakland, but only if Sonny Gray is a part of it.
The future could be bright in Oakland, but only if Sonny Gray is a part of it.
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Sonny Gray is the best player on the A's, by far. The 13-year-old 25-year-old right-hander was one of the American League's leading Cy Young candidates until a dreadful September, and he still finished with the third-lowest ERA in the league with a mark of 2.73. The youngster has drawn attention from media and front offices alike, as everyone wants their hands on him and knows that nobody under the A's front office is truly untouchable. Many A's fans even advocate dealing the star in an attempt to add impact talent for 2017 and beyond. However, this line of thinking is flawed.

For starters, trading Sonny Gray would decimate the A's fanbase. The fans that remain (despite trades of favorites such as Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss, and Josh Donaldson, paired with Oakland's horrible 2015 season) would be given yet another reason to "boycott Beane" and refuse to attend games or buy jerseys. While certain moves (such as trading the aforementioned Cespedes) need to be done to improve the team without the fanbase in mind, it reaches a point where they need to be considered. Ticket and merchandise sales are a large portion of the team's revenue, and if the team "betrays" all of its fans - even if it's for the better of the franchise as a whole - the club's financial situation will become even worse.

Next, trading Gray leaves the whole A's rotation entirely unstable - now, and years down the road. Unless Oakland plans on trading Gray and turning around and signing Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto, an incredibly unlikely scenario, trading Sonny leaves the staff unreliable. Not only is it a staff without an ace, it is a staff without a single pitcher that has started more than 26 games in a major league season. And that player with 26 starts, Jesse Chavez, is a likely trade candidate himself.

The only pitchers in the system with potential anywhere near Gray's are lefty Sean Manaea, acquired in the Ben Zobrist trade and a perennial injury concern, and righty Dakota Chalmers, who was just drafted in 2015 and has his own health issues. Manaea is roughly a season away from the big leagues, and Chalmers is probably more than three away. There is no realistic replacement for Gray in the Athletics' system, either in terms of durability or upside.

Do the A's really need the talent a Gray trade would bring back? Obviously, the A's were horrible in 2015. They finished with a record of 68-94, worst in the AL and tied for fourth-worst in all of baseball. However, their BaseRuns record was a much better 80-82 - and that's after giving September innings to the likes of Felix Doubront, Barry Zito, Cody Martin, and Tank Commander Edward Mujica. Prior to trading Zobrist and Scott Kazmir at the deadline, the A's BaseRuns record was even better, and had them pegged as contenders. The A's young infield is one of the most underrated in the game, and the outfield is once piece away from being solid as well. The youthful rotation has plenty of upside, and the A's only true weakness, the bullpen, is one that can be somewhat easily fixed through free agency.

Trading a player like Sonny Gray is a move you make if you're a team like the Padres, horrible in 2015 and desperately in need of future help. However, the A's farm is deep, full of infield bats with true impact potential. The A's major league team is a couple shrewd signings and pickups away from being a contender. Why ruin all of that by trading your best player?

Sonny Gray isn't Josh Donaldson. Many compare a possible Gray trade to last winter's shocking Donaldson move. However, the two are very different. Donaldson was almost 29 at the time of the deal, and was hitting arbitration as a Super-Two player. He had broken out at age 27 in 2013, and seen his wRC+ drop from 147 that season to 129 in 2014. A large portion of his value came from defense, and Donaldson's high error totals made it difficult to trust his advanced defensive metrics. He was hindered down the stretch by worrisome lower-half injuries. There were many reasons to sell high on Donaldson, especially as the 2014 Athletics' core was aging and it was time to bring in new talent.

Gray is only 25, and hasn't stopped improving over this three big league seasons, as his walk rate has dropped each year. He is loved and admired by seemingly all in the clubhouse. I wouldn't be surprised if Donaldson had become a bit of a cancer as the A's collapsed down the stretch in 2014, as his aggressive gamer attitude could have come across the wrong way. Gray has another season at the major league minimum, while Donaldson was entering the first of four expensive arbitration years. The two players are very different, and the two situations are as well.

Finally, Sonny Gray is simply golden. He's a fighter, a bulldog on the mound; a kid, a joker in the clubhouse. His baby is adorable. He's a fantastic story, as he has fought through the death of his father and questions about his build to become an All-Star and one of the league's finest young arms. He is unanimously loved by every A's fan on the planet, myself included. This Oakland franchise is one that seemingly can't have nice things. Well, they have one now, and he's the closest thing to a future homegrown Hall-of-Famer they've had on the big league roster since Eric Chavez was healthy. Sonny is a legitimate young star, and for once, I'd like to hang onto one of those.

And, besides. If the A's trade Sonny Gray, he'll probably have to transfer to a different middle school. And I've heard that's difficult for a pre-pubescent boy Gray's age.