As the MLB 2017 Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is coming to a close, the worst kept secret around the league is that the New York Yankees are "strongly interested" in Oakland Athletics ace Sonny Gray. The two sides have been talking for awhile now, but nothing seems imminent due to A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s high asking price for the 27 years young righty. Beane has asked for a package centered around one of the Yankees top two prospects, SS Gleyber Torres and OF Clint Frazier, who the Yankees consider untouchable. However, acquiring a talent such as Gray could be what the Yankees need to make them serious contenders not just for this season, but for the next couple seasons to come.
The market for ace-type starting pitchers this deadline is very thin; the only other arm alongside Gray is Texas Rangers RHP Yu Darvish, who becomes a Free Agent this coming offseason. The Rangers have made it clear that they are looking for a big return for their ace righty, which teams may be reluctant to give up for a half-year rental. Gray, on the other hand, has two years of club control left after the conclusion of the 2017 season, allowing the team that trades for Gray to have him in the rotation for two full years after this season.
The Yankees are in the midst of a serious playoff run this year, leading the American League East by 0.5 games ahead of the Red Sox, and having the third best record in their league behind the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Indians. Despite leading the East, their rotation has been nothing close to dominant throughout the season. Their ace Masahiro Tanaka, although throwing much better as of late, hasn’t been the dominant #1 the Yankees were hoping for with a record of 8-9 while holding an ERA over 5. They also just lost hard-throwing righty Michael Pineda to Tommy John Surgery, which would most likely sideline him not only for the rest of this season, but also for the entire 2018 season. 23 year-old righty Luis Severino has been enjoying a breakout season, putting up ace-like numbers with a 3.03 ERA with a FIP and xFIP of 2.93 and 3.09 respectively, but every additional inning he throws is adding onto his career high of 127.2 Innings Pitched thus far, and would not be surprising if he loses some effectiveness due to fatigue and inexperience. Long-time left-handed starter C.C. Sabathia has surprised many with his 3.66 ERA and 9 wins, but his FIP, xFIP and SIERA of 4.24, 4.47, and 4.67 respectively are nothing to get excited about. 24 year-old left-handed rookie Jordan Montgomery has been effective out of the #4 spot, but his advanced metrics are not much better than those of Sabathia. If the Yankees were to have to send a pitcher out on the mound for a must-win game in the playoffs, all four of the options stated above have their respective doubts.
This is where the A’s ace comes in; Sonny Gray could come in and bolster the Yankees rotation right from the get go; Gray has playoff experience, back in 2013 against the Detroit Tigers, when he went toe-to-toe with former Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander in Game Two of the ALDS. After an injury-plagued 2016 season, Gray has enjoyed a bounce back campaign this year, putting up an ERA/FIP/xFIP line of 3.43/3.24/3.29 while holding a career-high in K/9 and GB% of 8.72 and 56.7%. In the month of July, his K/9 shot up to 9.25 while putting up a FIP and xFIP of 2.45 and 3.05 respectively, showing that his dominance he had on the mound back in 2015, when he finished 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting, is back in 2017. A pitcher of his caliber would definitely aid the Yankees rotation and would add a reliable right-hander that could take the Yankees deep into the playoffs with fellow right-handers Tanaka and Severino.
Because of Gray’s team-friendly contract, the Yankees would have Gray under control until the conclusion of the 2019 season. This is a major positive for a team like the Yankees, who are up and coming with their window to contend just opening up. Gray can take over Sabathia, if the Yankees decide not to bring him back as a Free Agent, in the 2018 rotation and has the talent and "stuff" to battle for the #1 rotation spot against Tanaka.
To get such a talent, who would the Yankees have to give up? The Yankees are very reluctant to give up top prospects Torres or Frazier, but if they can get an asset such a Gray, why not give up one of the two in a package? After recovering from Tommy John Surgery, Torres has a set future at the starting shortstop position on the Yankees. However, Clint Frazier is not necessarily a must-have player for the Yankees.
At the moment the Yankees have rookie phenom Aaron Judge manning RF alongside Jacoby Ellsbury in CF and Frazier in LF with Ellsbury coming off the bench. (Post-concussion Ellsbury has not been producing the way Yankee fans were hoping he would, but there is great chance that he bounces back once he is 100% recovered.) The Bombers also have highly-touted young outfielder Aaron Hicks currently on the DL, and Girardi will have the option to put him back in one of the OF spots once he returns this season. Also, outfield prospect Dustin Fowler will be ready by the beginning of the 2018 season after a gruesome season-ending knee injury. The Yankees have enough offensive firepower to take the East, if not one of the Wild Card spots for sure, and go deep into the playoffs without Frazier in their line up. Next season, the outfield will again be made up of Judge, Ellsbury, Gardner, Fowler, and Hicks- no room for Frazier here with both Gardner and Ellsbury under contract for $11.5 million and $21 million respectively. After the 2018 season, Gardner will become a FA alongside 3B Chase Headley; the two take up $24.5 million, which the Yankees will have available in their cap if they choose not to resign both. With Alex Rodriguez’s dead contract of $21 million per year expiring after the 2017 season, the Yankees will have quite the money to spend after the conclusion of the 2018 season. This would allow the Yankees to potentially go after highly touted FA such as Bryce Harper after the 2018 season who, if the Yankees sign, would patrol RF alongside two of Ellsbury, Judge, Fowler and Hicks in the crowded outfield: again, no room for Frazier. (Yes, there were reports on how Harper wanted to play in Chicago after his contract with Washington ends, but with New York possibly being serious contenders in 2019, who knows what could happen?) Other potential Free Agents, such as Adam Jones and Michael Brantley, are also players that the the Yankees can target. The outfield, even without Frazier, has the potential to be one of the best in the Major Leagues come 2019 and on.
Quality Starting Pitching, on the other hand, comes at a premium due to the scarce supply in the FA market. The Yankees could go for high-priced starting pitchers such as Darvish, Jake Arrieta, or Johnny Cueto in the upcoming offseason, but the risks and the financial costs would be huge. Seeing their fellow AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox, giving out $217 million for injury-prone, unprofessional, unpopular left-hander David Price would definitely push the Yankees away from bank-breaking pitchers on the FA market. Some of the big-name starters who become Free Agents after the 2018 season are Matt Harvey and Dallas Keuchel, with over-the-hump pitchers such as Adam Wainwright, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, also available. Gray, most likely only being owed about $8 million to $10 million after two rounds of arbitration in 2018 and 2019, surely is a better option than any of the potential Free Agents available. If the Yankees do acquire Gray and, in future Free Agency, were to go sign a Harper, a Jones or a Brantley as stated above, they could use their cap space on those hitters instead of handing out multi-year, multi-million contracts to starters.
The Yankees are close to becoming the dominant force they were back in the beginning of the decade- this time, a lot younger and a lot more athletic. Adding an ace-caliber starter in Sonny Gray would help the Yankees get to and go deep into the playoffs for several years to come. All of a sudden, that 28th ring doesn’t seem so far away.