Let’s start by admitting something. Sonny Gray is good. He’s ace good. The reason for that is he has a strikeout and ground ball-inducing stuff. 2016 was a rough, injury-ridden year for him, and started slow after coming off the DL this year. Now he appears to be back to the Sonny Gray of 2014-2015, when he was one of the most coveted pitchers in the league.
At 5-foot-10, Gray is definitely diminutive compared to his average colleague, but that hasn’t stopped him so far from being an ace caliber pitcher. His average velocity this season is 94.1 mph, which makes him 90th among active starting pitchers. That’s not what makes him effective though. It’s his fastball movement and secondary pitches that make him the pitcher he is.
Given his size, injury history, and inconsistencies, he is not the perfect target on the starting pitcher trade market, but he is the best option currently available. Yu Darvish is the most talented, but he does not come with two additional years of comparative low-cost team control like Gray does. There are some major red flags with Gray though, and serious reasons to worry that the Yankees could end up losing a major prospect haul for a guy who just ends up getting injured. That’s a risk in any trade, but seems to be even more of a risk on a small, recently injured starting pitcher.
On the plus side, Gray fills a major need. The Yankees will more than likely start next year with three rotation pieces. That will be Severino, Montgomery, and Tanaka. After that, it’s all internal options right now. Gray fills that need better than any pitcher on the market, and greatly increases their chances at the playoffs this season. None of the internal options can say that.
Throw Yonder Alonso into the deal, and you have a team that is destined for the playoffs this year, and might even make a run at a world series. The Yankees have a need at first base, and Alonso certainly fills a major void for them. Seemingly out of nowhere, Alonso has become one of the better power hitters in the game. He’s hitting .267/.364/.534/.897 with 21 homeruns and 16 doubles. His contract expires after this season, making him a pure rental for the Yankees. That may actually be a good thing, because Greg Bird can take over again next season when he is fully healthy, and the Yankees will again have a cost effective option at first base. Alonso helps them make a real run at a world series this year though, and that’s a big deal.
So far, I’m not making the best case for my argument, which is to not mortgage the future for two guys who help us now, and in the relatively near future (for the next two seasons).
Here comes the U-turn. The Yankees are very close to becoming a perennial power again. They are one or two starting pitchers, and one or two position players away from that distinction. Those players, in my opinion, are already in the high minors in the Yankees’ farm system. By sending a bunch of the farm guys over to the A’s, we fast forward to a playoff contender this season, but we detract from our ability to become that perennial contender for the next 10 years.
The Yankees have tremendous pitching depth in the minors, although some outlets would have you believe otherwise. Much of that depth is already in the upper minors. Chance Adams is already ready, but is ironing out some minor wrinkles in Triple-A this season. He can already get major league players out, but by next season he might be comparable to Sonny Gray. He has that kind of repertoire.
After Adams, there are several other guys who might be ready to contribute as soon as next season. Caleb Smith actually is currently making his bid to be one of those guys. As a lefty who sits mid-90’s and has solid secondary offerings, he may surprise people going forward. Bryan Mitchell is still there and seems very close to being that guy, as does Domingo German. Dietrich Enns is yet another lefty who has been completely dominant in the minors and appears ready to give it a go in the majors. Then there’s Domingo Acevedo, who throws 103 mph and is dominating Double-A as we speak. He’s probably not ready yet, but he’s getting dangerously close. Justus Sheffield, Yefry Ramirez, and Zach Littell are all also in Double-A and thriving. James Kaprielian will be back early next year and will likely immediately compete for a rotation spot on his return.
With Severino, Montgomery, and Tanaka already in the rotation next season, and all of this upper minors depth, I have a hard time convincing myself they need Gray in the near future; at least they don’t need him badly enough to trade three of their top 10 prospects for him. This is especially true when you consider Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, and Johnny Cueto will all hit the market this offseason. All three could be had at no prospect cost at the end of the season. Gray is younger than those three guys, but I don’t believe he represents a massive upgrade over any of them.
The names being bandied about to trade for Gray are what really has me concerned. Jorge Mateo, Domingo Acevedo, and Estevan Florial with another lower minors high end arm appears to be the A’s asking price. In no way should the Yankees should give the A’s all of that for Sonny Gray. That, in my opinion, would be mortgaging the future and detracting from the possibility of a 10-year perennial power.
If the Yankees wait one more year to make a deal like this, they will have a much better idea where their real needs lie, and they will have a better team that is potentially one move away from a world series. With Jacoby Ellsbury seemingly done, Gardner’s contract up after next season, and Hicks’ in 2019, the Yankees might be in need of a long term centerfielder sooner than they originally thought. Aside from Dustin Fowler, who is currently has an injury that is so serious no one knows what he’ll look like when he’s recovered, the next two legitimate centerfielders in the system are Mateo and Florial. Both are potential stars.
The other positions of need are third base and first base. Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres will look to fill the third base void. The Yankees could go any number of directions for first base, but the hope is that Greg Bird’s surgery finally brings him back to his pre-injury production. I’m not as optimistic as many on that front, but I do think they have a ton of options at that position if Greg Bird doesn’t work out. Worst case scenario they can always take a hired gun like Yonder Alonso at the trade deadline next season when they have a better idea of what their real needs are.
The bullpen, outfield, catcher, and middle infield are otherwise pretty much set for years to come.
There is no question the Yankees should make a play at Sonny Gray. He would benefit their team both now and for the next two seasons. The problem is, their farm system will benefit this team for much longer than two years. Waiting patiently will allow them to have a much better idea of what their needs are in the future and possibly set themselves up for years with the right moves. For the right price, the Yankees should bring Gray in. Mateo, Florial, and Acevedo plus a high end low minors pitcher is not close to the right price though. They should take Florial out of the running and then negotiate from there.