With no set return date for Yankees starting pitchers Luis Severino and Corey Kluber, the team could really use another pitcher to fill out the starting rotation. Since experimenting with using Domingo Germán in relief and losing a number of bullpen stalwarts to the COVID-19 IL, every four or five days the Yankees have had to cobble together enough arms to get through nine innings. It’s a struggle. As former manager Joe Girardi used to say, “it’s not what you want.”
Adding a solid mid-rotation starter to the mix would bring some much-needed stability to the Bronx and prevent overuse of the Yankees’ bullpen. Lucky for the Yanks, there are a handful of starting pitchers available, and specifically guys well-suited to slot into the 3 and 4 spots in a rotation. As losing teams get ready to unload before the July 30th trade deadline, Brian Cashman should seriously consider trading for Colorado Rockies starter Jon Gray.
The 29-year-old right hander has been a reliable piece of Colorado’s starting rotation for the past six years. So far in 2021, Gray has a 3.68 ERA, which is impressive, considering his home ballpark Coors Field, and a 3.55 xERA. He is also in the last year of his contract, which means he’s a rental, and the cost for the Yankees to acquire him will be lower than other starters on the market who come with more team control. Back in June, Gray did spend three weeks on the IL due to a flexor strain in his right elbow, though he’s appeared effective and healthy since his return.
In the beginning of his career, Gray relied primarily on his slider and four-seam fastball, though he has lessened his fastball usage gradually over the last couple seasons. After altering his pitch mix last year, Gray now relies on his changeup more often (11 percent of the time) and in 2021 he has been throwing his slider—his best swing-and-miss pitch—a career-high 36.6 percent of the time. His stuff, for the most part, induces fly balls. It’s not overpowering—his four-seamer averages 94.4 mph—but Gray’s stuff is nonetheless effective, due to the movement of his pitches and the fact that his arm slot is remarkably consistent, no matter what pitch he is throwing.
Although Gray is likely to draw interest from multiple teams, some of them might hesitate to pick him up. He had the worst year of his career in 2020 and saw a worrying drop in his fastball velocity, a result of ongoing shoulder issues which have since been resolved. More optimistic general managers will note that, so far in 2021, Gray is quietly pitching better than he ever has, giving up fewer hits per nine innings and fewer home runs per nine innings than ever before in his career.
What kind of trade package does Cashman have to put together in order to add Gray to the Yankees rotation? While Colorado is looking to shed payroll, the Yankees would probably need to part with one of their better prospects to secure him. A reliable starting pitcher, even in the last year of his contract like Gray, is sure to attract a lot of interest, so Cashman would need to act promptly and offer a competitive deal. That said, Gray’s salary is $6,000,000, which is to say: bringing him to the Bronx won’t exactly break the Yankees’ bank.
The toughest sell on it all might be Gray himself. He has expressed desire to remain in Colorado, even after he becomes a free agent. But getting a reliable starter is (or at least should be) one of the Yankees’ top priorities as the trade deadline approaches. As a pitcher, Gray’s meets the Yankees’ needs and also represents the kind of high-risk, high-upside deal that Cashman loves to make. Cashman should act swiftly on this one, as the Yanks stand to benefit from adding Gray to their rotation.