The Yankees are looking at the top of their starting rotation with an eye toward improving it. And the launchpad of this column is that some Twins fans are looking at the extra pieces in New York and hoping to pick up the scraps.
The Yankees recently acquired James Paxton to add to the top of a rotation that also includes Luis Severino. They’re reportedly setting a meeting with Patrick Corbin, the consensus best free agent pitcher available. After winning 100 games and then watching the Red Sox win the World Series, the Yankees appear to be going for it.
For the Twins fans in the audience, we’ll cut to the chase. The influx of good pitching apparently has former starter Sonny Gray on the trade block. It came to my attention the past two days that I’m not as big of a Sonny Gray Believer as others.
Would it make sense for the Twins to target Sonny Gray in a trade?
As usual, it depends on the price. In a vacuum, though, I’m out.
Let’s start with the particulars.
The Twins could use an upgrade to their rotation. That’s pretty much always true. I mean, the Yankees are upgrading their staff despite what you’d have to consider a strong year last season. The Twins, on the other hand, were OK-but-not-great last season. Worth noting: I think that they were only a healthy and productive Ervin Santana short of a top-5 rotation in the American League.
Still, the staff could stand to improve and the Twins should aim for a top-flight starter to get that done. I think the Twins should trade for someone to sit atop their rotation. To do that I think they should be willing to pay in cash and in prospects. Maybe aim for a guy like Trevor Bauer, Noah Syndegaard or Zack Greinke.
And yet despite his great days as an ace in Oakland, Gray at this point in his career doesn’t look like that top-shelf upgrade.
He just turned 29 and has one year to go before free agency. MLB Trade Rumors is pretty good at projecting arbitration raises, and they’re guessing he’ll get $9.1 million in his final season before he hits the open market.
And don’t forget: Gray got squeezed out of the Yankees’ rotation even before they added Paxton. He was moved to the bullpen during the season last year, and that makes two of the past three seasons that his results have been underwhelming. In 2016 in Oakland (5.69 ERA in 117 innings), you can blame an injury. Then he was traded to New York mid-2017 and he had a fine season (3.55 ERA in 162 innings).
In 2018 he made 23 starts, got dumped from the rotation in the Bronx, and posted a 4.90 ERA in 130 innings. One potentially fascinating note: The Yankees are trying to spin his down season as being a guy who can’t perform in the bright lights of New York. Just not cut out to be a Yankee. No, really! His home-road splits are weird, and lend credence to that idea.
In his 59 1/3 innings at home last year, Gray was tattooed. He pitched to a 6.98 ERA and opposing hitters ran up a .399 Weighted On-Base Average. (He took the average hitter at Yankee Stadium and turned him into Alex Bregman, Jose Ramirez or Paul Goldschmidt.)
Away from the Very Scary Confines of Yankee Stadium, it was a totally different story. Gray posted a 3.17 ERA and hitters owned a .274 wOBA (think 2018 Logan Morrison).
He couldn’t buy a strikeout at home and on the road he was better than J.O. Berrios in that department. He limited walks in unfamiliar parks but at home he walked the park.
So what’s the deal? Why didn’t the intelligent Yankees management ask Gray to make only road starts? A reverse late-career Roger Clemens.
Of course you’d sign up for one inexpensive year of the Road Sonny Gray. But how sure are you that it’s that very specific version of Gray you’re dealing for? Is it 50% sure? Are you 90% sure that’s the guy he’ll be next year?
Or you could look at more of a median outcome. And if you’re getting something more like Kyle Gibson for one season at about the same price – how much are you willing to pay for that in terms of prospects?
To me that’s the question that the Twins have to ask themselves. How good is 2019 Sonny Gray likely to be? And what’s it worth to you to acquire that guy for something like $9 million? Personally, I wouldn’t be looking to part with a future Major Leaguer for that piece.