It finally happened; the Yankees are finalizing a trade for Sonny Gray. His new home will be the Cincinnati Reds, who will send over their number seven prospect Shed Long, a lesser prospect, and a Draft pick in exchange for Gray’s services, per MLB Network Insider’s Jon Heyman.
My first impression of this deal is that it’s a very good one for the Yankees. Sonny Gray struggled mightily in his time in the Bronx, and while his peripherals suggested that he was deserving of somewhat less worse results, they still pointed to a league average-ish, back of the rotation starter rather than a mid-rotation hurler (4.17 FIP, 4.10 xFIP in 2018). If you had told me that Brian Cashman would be able to flip him for a legitimate prospect this offseason, I would have been ecstatic.
Speaking of which, yes, I do think Shed Long is a legitimate prospect. The 23-year old second baseman has thoroughly demonstrated his hitting prowess at every stop in the minors so far, and last season he slashed .261/.353/.412 (120 wRC+) at Double-A. FanGraphs’ prospect team pegged Long as a 50 FV piece in their December 2018 ranking of the Red’s system. That is an impressive return for Sonny Gray in and of itself.
Of course, as with every prospect, Long comes with warts. He has some high-strikeout tendencies (23.6 K% in 2018), and scouts doubt his ability to stick at second base long-term, seeing a move to the outfield corners as a strong possibility. However, even if he isn’t the strongest defender, Long could provide value as a second baseman who can actually hit, as his MLB counterparts managed only a collective 93 wRC+ this past year. And while the Yankees already have a strong offensive player at the keystone in Gleyber Torres, it never hurts to have capable depth in the high minors (Long is projected to start 2019 at Triple-A). You can count me as a huge fan of this trade.
If I had to nitpick, I would point out that Gray’s departure lessens the Yankees’ rotation depth. Although CC Sabathia has reportedly been doing fine after his angioplasty, concerns linger about how he will hold up over a full season. James Paxton has also been mentioned as an injury risk, and while his past health problems have been more of the freak injury variety, the fact remains that he’s never been able to pitch a full season. Gray could have helped to eat innings capably provided that he’d be used solely on the road, but it looks like the Yankees will have to rely on Domingo German or worse, Luis Cessa for their sixth starter role.
However, I’m not too worried about that. There’s still time left in the offseason for the Yankees to shop for rotation depth. The sheer fact that Cashman may be able to get legitimate prospect value for Sonny Gray is enough for me to consider this trade a boon for the Yankees. Initially, I had my misgivings about how Cashman handled this whole saga, especially the way he made his intentions so clear. But Ninja Cash found his suitor, and he appears to have delivered yet again. Sorry for ever doubting you, Brian. You win, yet again.