To hear from the national media, Sonny Gray is the “belle of the ball” this trading season, the most coveted deadline acquisition teams will be lining up and bidding to snatch. This would be somewhat counter-intuitive to A’s fans who watched Gray labor, laboriously, through an injury, crooked number plagued 2016 that yielded awful results (5-11, 5.69 ERA), and who then watched more inconsistency as Gray returned to the rotation in 2017 — following yet more aches and pain that delayed the start to his season.
However, scouts are drooling at other observations that suggest Gray might be back in 2015 form, when he finished 3rd in the Cy Young award voting and completed 2.5 seasons of posting an impressive career 2.88 ERA.
Gray’s velocity is back, often hitting 95MPH on the gun, his swing and miss rate is up, and his past 3 starts (at the White Sox, home against the Braves and White Sox) have been “vintage Sonny” (21 IP, 9 hits, 4 ER, 4 BB, 16 K). Combine that with the dearth of available starting pitching on the market this year, and the fact that you can have Gray in 2018 and 2019, and you can see why if there’s a bidding war it might result in a team offering a haul for the A’s “once and future ace”.
I love Gray, but also recognize that if the offers are good enough the A’s really have to pull the trigger. If the offers are only “decent” I hope the A’s will hold onto Gray rather than settle for the Craigslist version of “$500 OBO”. If your grandmother’s antique dresser is worth $500 then it’s worth $500 and if no one will pay it then keep it until someone does. I also predict that the offers will, in fact, be “all that” and that Oakland will be compelled to pull the trigger.
What does an offer need to look like for the A’s to correctly decide to move Gray in July? I feel strongly that the A’s need, in any deal, to get back a big league ready (by 2018) outfielder, ideally a CFer, who has legitimate upside, and that a high upside young SP should be in the mix.
Remember that if the A’s deal Gray, they might complete the rebuild from the standpoint of having talent everywhere on the diamond but their starting pitching depth will also take a significant hit, especially in the top 3 spots in the rotation. Good #4 and #5 SPs are important and not easy to find, but the A’s have ample options at the back of the rotation with Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Andrew Triggs, Chris Bassitt, perhaps soon Norge Ruiz and Logan Shore, plus the ability to nab back-end SPs without making major deals.
At the front of the rotation, Sean Manaea would become the A’s most talented arm and if you believe in Kendall Graveman’s velocity, health, and emergence you could potentially make a case for him at least in the middle of the rotation. But beyond that there are few sure things, with the best arms belonging to Frankie Montas (if he sticks as a SP), Grant Holmes (AA), and A.J. Puk (AA). There’s a lot of talent, and little certainty, there.
Here is a look at what I would want the A’s to insist on in a deal for Sonny Gray, broken down into tiers: the teams I feel are most, medium, and least realistic for the A’s to match up with in a deal for Gray.
Not expected to compete for the NL Central title in a field dominated, on paper, by the Cubs, the Brewers went 4.5 games up on the Cubs after Thursday’s night’s 11-2 shellacking. With the addition of a front line SP, the Brewers could take a serious run at the division and have the farm system talent to make a worthy offer that doesn’t leave them bereft of good young talent.
For Gray, I would insist on CFer Lewis Brinson, and a high upside young SP such as Corbin Burnes (22, AA) or Luis Ortiz (21, AA), in any deal.
New York Yankees
The unfortunate injury to Dustin Fowler, tearing up his knee in his first big league inning, has changed the landscape a bit for New York, but I still see them as a potential match for Gray. The Yankees, having missed the post-season two years in a row, fighting the rival Red Sox for the division and under tremendous pressure to win, have a deep enough farm system to offer pieces in a “win now” effort without undermining their long-term plan.
Also, the Yankees need pitching now and later as C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka are all free agents at the end of the year. Nabbing Gray and having him under contract through 2019 would be worth a lot to the Yankees.
For Gray, I would insist on coveted CFer Clint Frazier, and a top pitching prospect such as Justus Sheffield (21, AA), in any deal.
I don’t see the Cubs as a great match mostly because I don’t think they’re a great candidate to give up a lot of farm talent for a SP. Why? Because the Cubs have pitchers like Sonny Gray already, they just aren’t performing. Jake Arrieta has disappointed and Kyle Hendricks is rehabbing from injury, but if you’re the Cubs do you outbid other clubs for Gray or do you hope Arrieta and Hendricks return to form? I could see the Cubs being players for Gray in the off-season if they lose Arrieta, but find it hard to believe they will make a marquee prospect available for Gray right now
That being said, they might and if they join the conversation for Gray I would insist on prized prospect Eloy Jimenez (20, A+) along with a pitching prospect such as Trevor Clifton (Oscar de la Cruz and Dylan Cease would be preferable but may be too much to ask along with Jimenez). Note that Jimenez is not “major league ready” and will not solve the OF situation over the next couple years, but is a worthy talent to add if you can get him.
Boston Red Sox
It seems like the Red Sox have coveted Gray for years, always mentioned when teams inquire about Gray, but in reality I don’t see a great match between Oakland and Boston when it comes to a 2017 trade.
I can’t see Andrew Benintendi being in play, with the Red Sox trying to win now and with Benintendi under contract control through 2022. Rarely does a contending team part with a key every day starter, and if you look for exceptions — and the A’s decision to trade Yoenis Cespedes would be atop the list — you see players whose contracts are soon expiring. Even in the case of Cespedes, the A’s had already decided they would move him at the end of 2014 in order to recoup something before his contract expired at the end of 2015, so in a sense they were only losing 2 months of his services by pulling the trigger. That cannot be said of Benintendi, or fellow outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr.
What that leaves is not a lot of great talent to choose from, none of it in the outfield. For Gray, I would insist on Boston’s two prized prospects, 3Bman Raphael Devers (20, AA) and SP Jay Groome (18, A), which would be a great accumulation of talent but Groome is several years away and Devers would presumably be blocked by Matt Chapman. So it would be more like having a great BPA draft more than it would be a helpful trade for the big league team any time soon.
More realistic, in my view, is a deal for Jed Lowrie, which the Red Sox absolutely have the chips to pull off and which could help them solve the cluster-you-know-what that has been 3B.
A couple weeks ago the Rockies were, like the Diamondbacks, surprise contenders looking like they might be aggressive buyers at the deadline. Then the Dodgers went 22-4 while Colorado couldn’t buy a win, dropping 10 of 11 at one point. Now the Rockies are still solidly in the wild card picture but are more hanging on for dear life than anything. Will they be shopping for an ace this year? Hard to say.
If they are, I would insist on David Dahl, who could immediately slot in as the A’s every day CFer — assuming he can stay healthy, which has been an issue — along with a solid SP prospect such as Yency Almonte (23, AA). (Nice Fangraphs article on Almonte here)
I expect the A’s to try to compete for a playoff spot in 2018 and heartily for the division in 2019, and that alone makes the Astros an odd destination for Sonny Gray. I’ve heard the buzz, but I just have a hard time seeing the A’s flip Gray over to the one team they are chasing as the Rangers and Mariners grow old with weakening farm systems and the Angels spin their wheels with more payroll than talent and next ot nothing coming up through the pipeline. If you can play with the Astros, you can win the AL West and handing them a top-of-the-rotation SP isn’t the way to do it. It’s also not like Houston has a top notch CFer to offer in return.
That being said, for Gray I would insist on Derek Fisher (23, AAA/MLB) and Kyle Tucker (20, AA) or go play with someone else. You want us to complete your rotation? Complete our outfield.
If the Twins aren’t for real in 2017, they sure are good at faking it. Here we are almost at the All-Star break and Minnesota is within a game of 1st place with no signs of letting up. Perhaps Cleveland will still pull away in the AL Central, and the Royals offer competition to the Twins in trying to unseat the Indians, but at the very least the Twins figure to be serious contenders for either wild card spot — and adding a piece like Sonny Gray could be what allows them to compete in earnest for the division.
Trouble is, the Twins don’t really have what the A’s are most seeking. Their highest ranking outfielder, Alex Kirilloff, is currently injured and is only 19, still in Rookie ball. They have a couple interesting pitching prospects (Fernando Romero and Steven Gonsalves are having solid seasons in AA) but nothing like a centerpiece for Gray.
To get the A’s interested, the Twins would probably need to offer up their #1 prospect, SS Nick Gordon (21, AA), and I suppose a deal with Gordon and one of the AA pitchers would yield enough talent for the A’s to consider biting. But it’s not really a match compared to the A’s opportunity to nab a Brinson, a Frazier, a Dahl, to address their more specific needs going forward.
But if the Twins want to dance with Gray, I would ask them to bring Gordon and either Romero or Gonsalves to the dance floor.
Kansas City Royals
An even poorer match is the Kansas City Royals, because they don’t have any prospects you really want. Bleacher Report just came out with its post-draft rankings and the Royals achieved something that is truly difficult: they ranked behind the Angels. NO SONNY FOR YOU.
So..........Brinson and Burnes it is, then! Or not. I have never come anywhere close to predicting a trade, usually getting wrong the team, the positions, everything. That’s why I’m assuming Gray will go to the Diamondbacks, because for some random reason I have skipped them in this writeup.
How realistic are the trade targets as a match for Sonny Gray?
This poll is closed
They undersell Gray — he will command a better return than these
They are generally realistic and about right
They oversell Gray — he won’t command this good a return