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Trade Market Suddenly A Gray Area Again

MLB: Miami Marlins at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

I know treatments have side effects, but the nurses didn’t warn me that AN’s fonts might look different. However, so far the keyboard appears to be in the same general arrangement on my laptop so I think I can still write about Sonny Gray.

It’s amazing how one brilliant start can move a pitcher from "hasn’t had it for 2 years" to "We’re gettin’ a HAUL!!!!" Sonny Gray was his vintage self Wednesday afternoon, and the way A’s fans know how to enjoy top performances is to immediately begin constructing trade proposals.

Not so fast, folks. But also, not so slow. If Gray continues to resemble his 2013-15 self, there will certainly be a hot market for him as the trade deadline approaches. With 2.5 years left on his contract the potential return in a Gray trade is hot, and if the A’s are seeking to be at their most competitive 2-3 years from now you have to think that dealing Gray is at least on the table if and when the timing is right.

However, whether Gray is traded this season and if so when, is unknown because it is unknowable. Just last month he was an injured pitcher coming off of a dreadful season. Just a couple weeks ago he debuted by serving up 3 HRs. Yesterday he was phenomenal but how will he be next time out?

So for openers, remember that it’s late May and not late July and that the heart of trading season is still 2 months away, which also means that needle on Gray’s value and status has a chance to keep moving. Imagine what teams might offer if Sonny has 6 more starts comparable to yesterday’s and what the market might be if Sonny reverts back to the "good stuff, ok results" of his first 3 starts this season.

The fact is no one, including every potential suitor, has any idea what to expect from Gray going forward. Whether the A’s trade him at all probably depends most on whether the best offer for him is the type of return he warranted at the end of 2015, the type of return he warranted an April, 2017, or somewhere in between.

There may be a team that, by the trading deadline, is willing to part with the kind of talent you would offer for an ace — which Gray was in 2015, as he finished 3rd in the Cy Young award balloting. If that’s the case you have to think the A’s will pull the trigger, considering how uncertain Gray’s future performance is in light of his recent struggles and injuries.

Then again, where Gray now stands you could easily see a scenario where he is more valuable to the A’s than what he garners in trade. His stock has fallen from 2015 to 2016 to 2017, and even if he rebounds he does it with less and less contract control. In trade you get only the value of a risky, if talented, stock, whereas if you keep him you might get the excellent FOTR pitcher if one is still there.

If I am trying to compare Gray, now, to another pitcher the one who pops to mind is someone the A’s have both recently acquired and recently dealt: Jeff Samardzija. There is no question about Samardzija’s stuff, yet some years the stuff has strangely not played. Samardzija, when dealt, had more than the usual 2 months left on his contract — the A’s acquired him with 1.5 years remaining and then traded him in the off-season with 1 year left. Samardzija has always been a tough pitcher to predict going forward, with ace stuff that sometimes yields great results and sometimes yields poor results.

Two key differences between Gray now and Samardzija recently would be that Gray has 2.5 years left on his contract, not 1 or 1.5, and he has battled injury recently. I don’t know if Samardzija’s markets in summer, 2014 and winter, 2014 tell you a blame thing about Gray’s market now, but if Gray’s suitors were to dangle talent along the lines of Addison Russell, Marcus Semien and Chris Bassitt, you have to think the A’s would be intently listening.

Usually, 2-3 starts won’t move the needle that much on a pitcher’s value but with Gray we might be looking at the exception that proves the rule. I have to think that if we see yesterday’s Gray more often than not in June, his value will be significantly higher than if he struggles in 2-3 of his starts. And that may determine whether the A’s feel compelled to move Gray or whether they avoid selling low and instead roll the dice that he can at least anchor their future rotation for a while.

My questions to you include:

  • What type of offers for Gray do you expect the A’s will wind up getting in the next 2 months?
  • What type of return would be sufficient that it would be worth moving Gray this summer?
  • Would the A’s ultimately be wiser to move Gray by the deadline for the best return possible, or would they be best off keeping him right now?

These are very, very hard questions to answer because they are ones that seem to shift with every start. And they are ones we are likely to be discussing with great interest over the next 60 days.