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Should the A’s pursue Sonny Gray?

Rumor has it the A’s have checked in on their former ace.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Some facts:

-The A’s need pitchers, specifically of the starting variety

-Sonny Gray is a pitcher, specifically of the starting variety

Punch that equation into the calculus reserve in your brain, and out comes the expected result: Sonny Gray to the A’s rumors.

The rumor

Although the Athletics contacted the Yankees about right-hander Sonny Gray at least a week ago, “there is no present momentum in talks” between the teams, Jon Morosi of tweets.

So, not the most riveting rumor. I’ve never seen the inner workings of a front office, but I imagine there are a lot of conversations between front offices. And no momentum.

But it does seem as though something is there. With the addition of James Paxton, Gray seems as good as gone from the Yankees and there are only a few teams seemingly in the mix.

The stats

Season Games IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Season Games IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2013 12 64 9.42 2.81 0.56 .276 52.9% 2.67 2.7 2.92 1.5
2014 33 219 7.52 3.04 0.62 .277 55.9% 3.08 3.46 3.47 3.1
2015 31 208 7.31 2.55 0.74 .255 52.7% 2.73 3.45 3.69 3.8
2016 22 117 7.23 3.23 1.38 .319 53.9% 5.69 4.67 4.13 0.7
2017 27 162.1 8.48 3.16 1.05 .269 52.8% 3.55 3.9 3.76 2.8
2018 30 130.1 8.49 3.94 0.97 .326 50% 4.9 4.17 4.1 1.7

Make no mistake about it, Gray would be a reclamation project. There are varying degrees of reclamation, and with Gray just a year removed from being a valuable pitcher he wouldn’t be a major reclamation. But reclamation nonetheless.

Can Sonny Gray be good again?


If we’re being honest, Sonny just hasn’t been the same since his 2015 ace-like campaign. Like we see all too frequently with pitchers, Gray’s stuff diminished as he face arm injuries in 2016. He bounced back some in 2017, earning a trade to the Yankees who believed in his stuff enough to part with three solid prospects. Since then he’s been mostly underwhelming, pitching like a mid to backend pitcher at the end of 2017 before bottoming out in 2018, a campaign in which he lost his rotation spot.

Still, Sonny is intriguing. His stuff is certainly not what it once was, but it’s good enough to immediately make him the best starter the A’s have if he can find his groove. If he’s only able to bounce back some, he could fill the role of innings eater, something the A’s certainly need.

The cost

From a salary perspective, Gray is entering his final season of team control and final season of arbitration. MLBTR estimates his 2019 salary will land at $9.1 MM which would make him the third most expensive Athletic (presuming the A’s are to sign Khris Davis and Mike Fiers at their arb estimates). In 2019, $9.1 MM is far from a huge number for a single player and the A’s need to be able to pay these figures (even if only occasionally) in order to compete.

They also need to be choosey in those investments, and a bad starter at that number is far from an optimal deal. If the A’s are to make a move for Gray, it’s a good indication the scouting department believes Gray still has mid-rotation ability in that arm.

We also have to consider the additional cost of traded talent. While Gray won’t command a huge haul prospect wise, he’s still an asset and won’t come free. Something around a top 15-20 prospect for Gray is a reasonable guess. With the Rule 5 draft upcoming, the A’s could proactively move a player eligible to be selected in a potential trade.

The argument for Sonny Gray

This post and the community at large are fairly meh on Gray but there’s reason the A’s are legitimately enticed.

-Velocity as a proxy for stuff isn’t perfect, but Gray’s velocity has mostly remained since his falloff in 2016. The ability to get outs is there and was present as recently as 2017, a season in which he put up a 3.55 ERA for the Yankees and A’s. His 2018 numbers were far worse, but part of that may have been due to luck. Gray’s .326 BABIP was the highest of his career and a full .057 above the season prior. Even a slight decrease there could bring his ERA back to a respectable mark.

-Even with a diminished pool of teams looking to compete, the market for starting pitching is...tough. There’s a lot of talent available this offseason but spoiler alert; the A’s are likely to be priced out of the most intriguing options. As an example, FanGraphs predicts Gio Gonzalez will land somewhere around the 2 year, $22 million mark. And while Gonzalez is a piece the A’s could use, $11 million for an average at best innings eater is not a bargain. Comparatively, Gray is.

-With context, this is reminiscent of the Ryan Sweeney depth chart of 2011.

A starting rotation requires five pitchers, the A’s have four listed and three had major arm injuries last season. The A’s need starters.



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