At the Major League Baseball non-wavier trade deadline, pitching always comes at a premium. And every contender is always looking for a little extra help on the mound.
Jose Quintana, Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray were the big names mentioned on the market early. Now that Quintana has been dealt and Cole looks to be staying put, Gray becomes the biggest name remaining, unless the Texas Rangers decide to sell and dangle pending free agent Yu Darvish.
It is rare to see a young, controllable pitcher moved at the deadline. Gray still has two years of team control after 2017. That aspect, along with his 3.66 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, makes him a particularly attractive option for a number of teams. It also means that Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane can hold out for the package he wants without feeling obligated to move him.
Gray had a bad year in 2016, going 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA as he struggled through injuries to make 22 starts. The young right-hander saw his market plummet, but he’s back to form this year. He’s pitching to a 3.38 FIP and has cut his home run rate nearly in half while lowering his walk rate and increasing is strikeout numbers.
The 27-year-old has now thrown five straight games of at least six innings with two runs or less. He’s 4-1 in those starts with a 1.62 ERA in 33.1 innings. He’s also posted a 0.750 WHIP in that time frame. Whoever acquires Gray will be getting a pitcher who is throwing the ball particularly well right now, giving his new team a significant boast. Look to whoever is able to add him in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests as the season reaches the dog days of summer.
With Gray throwing the ball so well and having so much control left, what makes him such a likely trade chip?
Well, he goes through arbitration again at the end of the year. And if he keeps pitching like he has over the last month, it would mean a significant raise for a team in Oakland that pinches pennies with the best of them.
There are also no guarantees in the game. With Gray throwing so well, he can offer immediate assistance to a number of other teams while also providing future potential. That’s invaluable and very desirable for both sides.
He’s also the most valuable starter still on the market. His appeal does dip a bit if Darvish is made available, but it is higher than it has been since he finished third in the Cy Young Award voting after going 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA and 1.082 WHIP in 2015. For a pitcher that has struggled with health, it seems wise for rebuilding team like the A’s to try and cash in while the value is up and the contract is still low.
Everything lines up for Gray to change teams within the week. There’s been a ton of speculation around him and where there is smoke, there is usually fire.
Teams like the Brewers, Yankees, Nationals, Mariners, Dodgers, Cubs, Astros and even the Braves have all been tied to Gray. With his controllability, teams like Milwaukee and Atlanta who have overachieved thus far can make a move to improve their rotations with 2018 still in mind.
Based on reports, most recently from veteran baseball scribe Jon Morosi, Beane is looking to get back a talented, young center fielder in a deal. Beane, more than any other executive in baseball, is known for targeting certain players while he often leads the Athletics in unconventional directions.
Most teams still in on Gray have a young centerfielder to offer. Some seem more likely to be dealt than others.
For the Cubs, it would figure to mean Albert Almora, who is part of the big league club. With a .738 OPS and .278 average, Almora would seem to be expendable with Jon Jay and Ian Happ capable of playing center. Jason Heyward could slide over as well.
Beyond him, there are other players that could capture Oakland’s attention. Morosi called out the Yankees’ Estevan Florial. The Brewers have Lewis Brinson, though they seem to be falling out of the Gray sweepstakes.
In the end, the best two fits may be the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros. The Dodgers have Alex Verdugo to offer in a package and have dealt with Beane as recently as last year when they acquired Rich Hill and Josh Reddick.
Reddick’s current team, meanwhile, could offer up Daz Cameron as a center field prospect and have floated names like Derek Fisher in conversations.
Both Los Angeles and Houston figure to make the postseason easily. They lead their respective leagues, but each have an ace on the disabled list. Clayton Kershaw is now out for the next month whereas Dallas Keuchel looks to be coming back this weekend, but he’s made only 11 starts this year.
Even with Kershaw and Keuchel each leading their respective rotations, and Alex Wood and Lance McCullers offering solid No. 2 options for their respective clubs, Gray slides in nicely for both teams in the No.3 slot.
We will find out over the next few days whether or not a deal will indeed happen.