Well, it’s official: Sonny Gray is a New York Yankee. Am I ecstatic? No. I’m not as excited as I was after we acquired Frazier/Robertson/Kahnle from the White Sox earlier this month. But Gray does provide the Yankees with another quality starting pitcher, something they desperately needed for not only this year but beyond this season as well.
As for what they give up, it’s been well known for a few weeks that Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres were both off-limits, as they should be. Those guys can be stars in the Bronx for years to come, and Frazier has already stolen the show on the big stage.
Jorge Mateo being in this deal was almost a given. A speedy 22-year old with the ability to play both middle infield and center field, he was one of the Yankees’ more promising prospects. He split time this year between A and AA, batting a combined .258 with 39 steals. He certainly has great potential, but it’s been reported that they preferred keeping Estevan Florial, a 19-year old center fielder with 5-tool skills. All week, it had been reported that both Mateo and Florial would likely go to Oakland in a Gray trade, so hanging onto one of them is a win for the Yanks.
However, here’s the interesting part of the deal. Two of the Yankees top prospects, outfielder Dustin Fowler and right-handed James Kaprelian will also go to the A’s in the trade. Both have suffered season-ending injuries, as Kaprelian underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this year and Fowler ruptured his patella tendon in his right knee attempting to make a catch in his MLB debut in Chicago in early July.
Kaprelian, the Yanks’ 2015 first-round pick, was the Yankees’ 4th rated prospect and top pitching prospect at the time of his injury. He likely won’t pitch again until midway through 2018, and who knows how he’ll perform after Tommy John. However, giving up on a pitcher with so much potential definitely hurts. Fowler’s injury paved the way for Clint Frazier to make his MLB debut, and he hasn’t looked back since. Before his injury, Fowler was batting .293 with 13 HR and 43 RBI for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. It’s really tough seeing him go before he could even get an at-bat in pinstripes. But he was fighting an uphill battle coming back from an injury to a crowded Yankee outfield with 3 guys under 27 tearing it up this year in Aaron Hicks (27), Aaron Judge (25) and Frazier (22.)
Bottom line, the Yankees have tiers of prospects. The top tier is full of guys who you think can contribute to the team in the near future, and likely won’t be dealt unless it’s for a bona fide star, someone better than Gray. Frazier, Torres, pitcher Chance Adams and third baseman Miguel Andujar fall into this category. Fowler and Kaprelian likely would have before their injuries as well. However, the circumstances of a crowded outfield in the Bronx and a Yankee team desperate for rotation help in a weak market for it made them both expendable at the end of the day.
So did the Yankees win this trade? Obviously, time will tell. It kind of reminds me of the Michael Pineda trade they made back in the 2011 offseason. The Yanks traded Jesus Montero, at the time one of the top prospects in baseball, for Pineda. I was upset with this trade. If they were gonna trade Montero, I wanted Felix Hernandez in return. Montero had just had a great stint in the Bronx, hitting .328 with 4 homers and 12 RBI in 18 games with the Bombers. Pineda went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 2011, and didn’t pitch in 2012 or 2013 after Tommy John. So you’d say the Mariners won this deal, right? Well, not after it played out. Montero had an average 2012 season, batting .260 with 15 HR and 62 RBI, and would play only 73 games combined in the next 3 seasons with a batting average that never got above .235. Pineda, while never being great in the Bronx, certainly was more productive than Montero.
So what’s my point? The point is, I’m not thrilled about this trade – it’s not like we got Clayton Kershaw. But the Yankees needed rotation help badly, and this move does just that. At 6-5 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, Gray was having a nice bounce-back year in Oakland after posting a disastrous 5.69 ERA last year. At his best, Gray is a solid 2nd or 3rd rotation starter. He’s no ace, but he was arguably the best starter available that wasn’t a rental like Yu Darvish, who the Yankees could potentially pursue in free agency this winter.
Saying goodbye to prospects like Mateo, Kaprelian and Fowler hurts because it seems like every Yankee prospect that’s come up this year has been great (besides Tyler Wade), from Sanchez and Judge to Frazier and Montgomery. However, they’re bound to have another Jesus Montero sooner or later. As much as I think all three of these guys have the potential to become great big leaguers, the Yankees needed pitching and Gray provides them with that. I think as long as Gray performs, which is a big if when you talk about putting a big-time pitcher in Pinstripes (see Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, you get my point), everyone will look back on this deal and realize it was something the Yanks had to do. You can only send Luis Cessa out to start games so many times before you stop being an actual contender.
Do I love this trade? No. Do I hate it? Definitely not. But I think it’s one that had to be made. Welcome to the Bronx, Sonny, and here’s to hoping you make our season a little brighter.
(It’s crazy how some journalists will actually end their articles with puns like that and just leave it and not acknowledge how corny it is. Like “wow everyone is gonna LOVE this Sonny Gray pun.” This is a way better way to end it am I right??? Ok let’s go Yankees.)