With the Oakland Athletics basically out of postseason contention for the season, they’re going to be looking to be sellers at this summer’s July 31 MLB trade deadline. Certain players, including starting pitcher Sonny Gray, are going to be on the trading block.
With the Athletics current youth movement in full swing, they’re bringing up players such as catcher Bruce Maxwell while designating two-time all-star catcher Stephen Vogt for assignment, Matt Chapman to replace the also DFA’d veteran Trevor Plouffe, first baseman-turned-outfielder Matt Olson, and their No.1 prospect infielder Franklin Barreto, among others.
It’s, as already evidenced, inevitable that some of the team’s veterans are going to have to go.
Whether it be through free agency at the end of the season or via trade, room must be made for the group of young players who came up through the minors together and are now ready for the big leagues.
The A’s also have young pitchers Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, and Frankie Montas with more highly touted pitchers on the way, meaning they’ll have to make room on the pitching staff as well.
That means that the most likely candidates on the trading block for the A’s are second baseman Jed Lowrie, first baseman Yonder Alonso, and most importantly, starter Sonny Gray. And teams are definitely interested in Gray.
Multiple teams already sent scouts and even top executives to Gray’s last start on Sunday against the Chicago White Sox.
Those teams included the Houston Astros, who the A’s are currently playing although they will not be facing Gray, the Chicago Cubs, the Seattle Mariners, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Atlanta Braves and surprisingly, the Boston Red Sox.
Gray, who finished third in the CY Young Award voting in 2015, went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA that season. He made the all-star team and had an excellent track record since being called up to the majors in July of 2013.
He led the A’s in the postseason in 2013 going head to head with the Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander, not once but twice in the American League Division Series.
Once 2016 hit, however, things have only gone downhill for Gray. He had an abysmal 2016 going 5-11 with an inflated 5.69 ERA and pitched just 117.0 innings, spending two separate stints on the disabled list with two different injuries.
He began the 2017 season on the disabled list yet again, with another new injury. He returned to the team on May 2 and has made 11 starts for the ballclub, at least six of which can be considered quality starts.
While Gray has struggled on occasion, allowing, for example, seven earned runs against the Cleveland Indians on May 30, he has otherwise done fairly well in 2017 for the A’s. Still, his 4.45 ERA leaves something to be desired.
What makes Gray attractive is his past accomplishments, not a year of being terrible, and half of one of being perhaps slightly better than mediocre.
What also makes him attractive is his team-friendly contract. Gray is just 27-years-old and according to Baseball Reference, he will not be eligible for arbitration until 2018 and won’t be a free agent until after the 2019 season.
The team that gets (or keeps) Gray gets two years of team control over him. He is only making about $3.6 million in 2017, which is pennies to most ball clubs.
The major question for Oakland and all the other teams involved is: Will Gray bounce back to the pitcher he was in 2015 or stay where he currently is?
With the injuries he’s had, it is safer to bet on the latter, especially for Oakland who has younger, talented pitchers in their farm system making Gray definitely available.
The other important question that the A’s need to answer is which team will be the best to trade with?
The Astros appear to be a good fit. With their ace Dallas Keuchel battling injuries and the team having already started the season needing another good starter, it would seem to be kismet.
However, A’s vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst have never been fans of trading within their own division.
Currently, both teams reside in the American League West and play each other 19 times a season, so if Gray were to bounce back, he could become a problem for Oakland in the future.
The Atlanta Braves were mentioned to be in attendance for Gray’s start on Sunday by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Another report from David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution said that it appears that the Braves have gone back to two of their original targets for starting pitching, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Chris Archer and the Chicago White Sox Jose Quintana. So their interest in Gray has waned.
The Mariners scouts were present Sunday in Chicago. The team desperately could use another starter as all of their starting pitchers have been lost to the disabled list at times this year including “King” Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, and now the news has broken that Drew Smyly will be undergoing Tommy John Surgery.
It’s highly questionable whether or not the Mariners would be able to put together a trade package that would entice Beane and Forst to trade Sonny Gray. And there is always that pesky issue of the Mariners also being in the American League West.
Gray could be a good fit for the reigning World Champion Chicago Cubs who haven’t been quite as dynamic this year as they were in 2016. The Cubs will need another starter if they plan to make a late season run at making the playoffs and remaining World Champions.
Earlier in the season, the Cubs tried to use the chronically injured Brett Anderson as a starter. Anderson however, pitched poorly and then got, not surprisingly, injured again.
Eddie Butler hasn’t been awful but he doesn’t pitch well enough to go deep into games which will not work were the Cubs to make the playoffs. Then there’s the questionable Kyle Hendricks and how he will do once he returns from his finger injury.
If he can return this season, it will be after the all-star break and on top of that, how will he pitch? Will the tendonitis in his finger return? It could.
In Hendrick’s absence, Mike Montgomery has started and pitched well but should probably be sent back to help the bullpen, leaving the Cubs still short a starter. Gray could easily be the guy that they need.
The Cubs have the prospects to make a play for Gray but the price won’t be cheap, and it depends on how far they are willing to go.
The Blue Jays are likely considering Gray due to the fact that Aaron Sanchez is on the disabled list again with a nagging blister issue and the fact that both Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano will be free agents after the season ends.
Someone, like Gray, with a team-friendly contract and two years of team control would really fit the bill for them if Liriano and Estrada decide to part ways with the team.
However, there were also reports that the Blue Jays scouts may have been there looking at veteran second baseman Jed Lowrie and not Gray. With the promotion of Chad Pinder and the A’s top prospect Franklin Barreto, it’s inevitable that Lowrie will need to be moved.
The Boston Red Sox sending scouts to watch Gray was somewhat of a surprise. They have a rotation of Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, and a struggling but still decent Rick Porcello. The Red Sox also need help at third base and in the bullpen, so there are those issues to consider.
Plus, they’ve given up a lot of prospects in recent years to acquire players like Sale and Pomeranz, so they really need to weigh the question as to whether or not Gray would be worth a significant prospect package. Still, they are absolutely a possibility of where Gray may end up.
As of now, there is no telling what uniform Gray may be wearing come the July 31 non-waiver MLB trade deadline, but it is very likely that he will no longer be wearing an Athletics uniform.
[Featured Image by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images]