Yanks activate Holliday, call up four others as rosters expand

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
Matt’s back. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

September roster expansion has arrived and the Yankees added five players to the active roster Friday. Matt Holliday was activated off the disabled list and Jordan Montgomery, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, and Erik Kratz were all called up from Triple-A Scranton. Luis Cessa, who is out with a rib cage injury, was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Kratz. The Yankees now have 30 players on the active roster.

Holliday has been out since August 4th with a back problem and, prior to that, he’d been dealing with an illness for weeks. He is hitting .229/.319/.430 (98 wRC+) with 16 home runs this season, but, in the 31 games prior to the back injury, he hit a weak .175/.263/.307 (51 wRC+) in 156 plate appearances. I’m curious to see how the Yankees use him. Will Holliday step back into the lineup as the full-time DH? Or will he see more time on the bench until he proves he deserves more at-bats? We’ll see.

Montgomery and Mitchell were locks to be called up — at least I thought they were — and I’m pleasantly surprised to see Heller get the call over Jonathan Holder. Holder got the call pretty much every time the Yankees needed a shuttle arm this summer, so I figured he’d come up on September 1st and Heller would remain in Triple-A. Instead, Heller is up and Holder is still down. Holder will be up soon enough though. Probably after the Triple-A postseason.

The Yankees acquired Kratz from the Indians in a cash trade yesterday and he’ll be the third catcher the final month of the season. Kyle Higashioka is currently on the Triple-A disabled list and he’s missed an awful lot time this year. Only 96 plate appearances all season. I imagine he’ll remain with Scranton through the postseason. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine will serve their suspensions at some point, so Kratz is going to play a bit.

Garrett Cooper (hamstring) and Clint Frazier (oblique) are on the disabled list and figure to be activated at some point this month. There are eight players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now: Holder, Higashioka, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, Caleb Smith, and Tyler Wade. Austin, Smith, and Wade can’t come up yet because of the ten-day rule. The other guys will have to wait until the Triple-A postseason ends, I imagine.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: September 2012

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

Welcome to September. The final month of the regular season. The 2017 Yankees are currently fighting for a postseason spot, and five years ago the 2012 Yankees were doing the same. The 2017 Yankees feel like a team on the rise because of all the talented young players on the roster. The 2012 Yankees felt like a team in decline, with an aging roster and too many bloated contracts on the books.

The 2012 Yankees went into September with a 75-56 record and a two-game lead in the AL East. That lead was once as large as ten games. The Yankees went 18-22 from July 19th through August 31st, hence the disappearing division lead. Tensions were high. And now that we’re in a new month, it’s time for another entry into the MLBTR Archives series. Most September rumors are speculative or looking ahead to the offseason. That was certainly the case in September 2012. Let’s dive in.

September 5th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Steinbrenner, Cashman, Girardi

The Yankees have made it clear that they intend to reduce payroll below the $189MM luxury tax threshold by 2014. But Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wonders if Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner will change his mind if the team misses the postseason this year. Promising young pitchers such as Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Manny Banuelos dealt with injuries in 2012, which will make it harder for GM Brain Cashman to build an affordable rotation.

Rosenthal was a year early. The Yankees did manage to win the division and go to the postseason in 2012 — they beat the Orioles in five games in the ALDS, then were swept by the Tigers in the ALCS — so they stuck to their guns and tried to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. Then they missed the postseason in 2013 and that was that. The Yankees blew up their austerity plan to sign Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka during the 2013-14 offseason.

I can’t help but wonder how things would’ve turned out had the Yankees stuck to the plan and not signed those guys, and gotten under the luxury tax in 2014. My guess is things would probably be worse than they are right now. They probably would have gone out and spent big on free agents after resetting the luxury tax rate, which means more onerous contracts on the books, and few prospects. Who knows. Maybe they’d have a ton more prospects and tens of millions in payroll space under the luxury tax. Whatever. What’s done is done. I don’t foresee the Yankees changing their plan again, regardless of what happens this year. They’re getting under the luxury tax threshold next year.

September 7th, 2012: Stark On Yankees, LaRoche, Phillies

Two National League executives had no reservations about spending on Cano. “Pay him what he’s worth,” one said. The other said Cano has a legitimate case for a $200MM extension.

I always wonder about the sincerity of comments like this. Did these rival executives truly have no reservations about paying Robinson Cano, or where they just saying that in an effort to bait the Yankees into a big contract for Cano’s decline years? I think they meant it, that Cano was worth paying top dollar to re-sign. These guys know whatever they say isn’t going to sway a team’s decision. A general manager who makes decisions based on what rival executives say to reporters won’t be a general manager for long.

September 13th, 2012: Rafael Soriano Likely To Opt-Out

There’s a good chance Rafael Soriano will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract with the Yankees after the season and hit free agency early, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Soriano must choose between another year in New York with a salary of $14MM and opting out for a $1.5MM buyout and the uncertainty of the open market.

Opt-outs are the new thing in baseball — even mid-range free agents are getting them these days — and the only scenario in which they’re advantageous for the team is when the player has a good year, opts out, and they don’t get stuck with his decline years. How often does that happen? Very rarely. In most cases, when a player has a year good enough to use the opt-out, the team wants to keep him.

Anyway, the Soriano contract worked out about as well as the Yankees could’ve hoped, and all it took was Mariano Rivera tearing his ACL in a freak accident. Soriano was hurt and ineffective (4.12 ERA and 3.97 FIP) in 2011, didn’t use his opt-out, then was great as Rivera’s replacement (2.26 ERA and 3.32 FIP) in 2012. He used his second opt-out, landed a two-year deal with the Nationals, and threw 128.2 innings with a 3.15 ERA (3.38 FIP) with Washington. The Yankees used the compensation draft pick on Ian Clarkin. They paid $21M for 107 innings of 2.94 ERA (3.56 FIP) pitching and Clarkin.

September 13th, 2012: New York Notes: Collins, Mets, Yankees, McLouth

Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that the Yankees offered Nate McLouth a minor league deal after he was released by the Pirates in June.  McLouth instead opted to go with the Orioles as he felt that he had a better shot of reaching the majors.  The outfielder is hitting .279/.350/.418 in 35 games for the O’s this year.

The Yankees did not have Brett Gardner for pretty much the entire 2012 season. He hurt his elbow making a sliding catch in April and didn’t return until late September. So, anytime an outfielder became available, the Yankees were said to be interested. It had been years since McLouth’s breakout 2008 season, and when the Pirates released him in 2012, he was hitting .140/.210/.175 (9 wRC+). Yeah.

McLouth landed with the Orioles and had a strong 55 games, hitting .268/.342/.435 (112 wRC+) with seven homers. There were a lot of “why didn’t the Yankees sign him?” questions because of that, especially since the O’s were the team chasing the Yankees down in the standings. The Yankees instead made the Ichiro Suzuki trade, and that worked out pretty darn well, so it’s hard to complain about missing out on McLouth.

September 16th, 2012: East Notes: Girardi, Nationals, Rays, Bay

GM Brian Cashman reiterated Joe Girardi will manage the Yankees next year, according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. Cashman was specifically asked, if in his mind, Girardi will be the manager regardless of what happens. “Yup,” was Cashman’s reply.

On the morning of this report, the Yankees were 82-63 and one game up in the AL East. They were 7-7 in September up to that point and had been alternating one-game leads with being tied with the O’s atop the division for more than a week. The Yankees had a ten-game lead vanish, though they never did fall out of first place. They were tied with Baltimore at their lowest point.

Needless to say, with that big fade in the second half, there were a lot of questions about Girardi and whether his job would be safe if the Yankees missed the postseason for the first time in four years. Cashman and Steinbrenner summarily shot it down at every opportunity. Girardi was their guy regardless of how the season played out. I still think that is the case now. I’m not certain of it, but I do think that’s the case.

September 19th, 2012: AL East Notes: Bundy, Pettitte, Kuroda

The Yankees still have some hope that David Aardsma could pitch this year, Sherman adds. They signed the reliever with 2013 in mind, knowing that most of this year would be spent recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Aardsma, who is somehow still only 35, did pitch for the Yankees in 2012. He got into one game in September, allowed a home run to J.P. Arencibia, and that was it. They released him at the end of Spring Training 2013. The Yankees signed Aardsma, rehabbed him hoping he would contribute down the line, and it didn’t happen. Aardsma spent the 2013 season with the Mets, where he had a 4.31 ERA (5.27 FIP) in 39.2 innings. He currently has a 2.01 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 22.1 innings for the Long Island Ducks.

The Yankees have tried a few of these “sign an injured pitcher, rehab him, and hope he helps” moves over the years. The Jon Lieber deal was, by frickin’ far, the most successful. Others include Aardsma, Octavio Dotel, Matt Daley, and Andrew Bailey. Those didn’t work out so well. Now these pitchers are getting guaranteed big league deals and 40-man roster spots (Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Nathan Eovaldi, etc.). The days of rehabbing a once successful veteran on a minor league deal are pretty much over.

September 20th, 2012: AL East Notes: Middlebrooks, Ichiro, Blue Jays

Ichiro Suzuki and Brett Gardner are too similar to be the Yankees‘ corner outfielders in 2013, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post writes. The Yankees hope to have Gardner back at full health next year, so Ichiro might have to sign elsewhere as a free agent. Davidoff won’t be surprised if Ichiro’s still unsigned in January.

Hah. The Yankees not only re-signed Ichiro to a two-year contract after the season, they then tripled down on the speedy leadoff type by giving Ellsbury a seven-year contract the following offseason. Their leaders in games played at each outfield position in 2014:

  • Left Field: Gardner (126 games)
  • Center Field: Ellsbury (141 games)
  • Right Field: Ichiro (119 games)

That trio started 64 games together in 2014. (Ichiro came off the bench a bunch to replace Beltran for defense.) Pretty sure having too many of the same type of player wasn’t a big concern back then. It’s cool to have some outfielders who can hit the ball out of the park now, isn’t it?

September 20th, 2012: Quick Hits: Upton, Greinke, Escobar, Managers

Derek Jeter told ESPN’s Rick Reilly (passed on by Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News) that he would potentially be open to playing for a team besides the Yankees once his current contract expires.  “Well, if I wanted to keep playing, yes,” Jeter said. “It’s a business. People forget that.”  Jeter is under contract through the 2013 season with an $8MM player option for 2014; the shortstop turns 40 years old in June 2014.

There was never any chance Jeter would go play for another team, nor was there any chance the Yankees would let him go play for another team. The two benefited from each other tremendously. The Yankees enhanced Jeter’s personal #brand and Jeter did the same for the Yankees. Jeter shot this report down pretty quickly, but he did say it, and I remember thinking at the time it was an attempt to create some leverage for his next contract. And maybe it worked. Following the 2013 season the Yankees needlessly renegotiated that $8M player option into a $12M guaranteed year. O … kay?

September 21st, 2012: AL East Notes: Jeter, Yankees, Red Sox, Hamilton

Derek Jeter says that suggestions that he wants to play elsewhere are “comical,” and that he obviously wants to end career with the Yankees, according to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch (via Twitter).  Yesterday, Jeter seemed to imply that he would be open to playing for another club once his contract expires.  The shortstop is under contract for 2013 with an $8MM player option for ’14.

Like I said, Jeter shot it down pretty quickly.

September 23rd, 2012: Cafardo On Angels, Ross, Loney, Carp, Scioscia

Outfielder Cody Ross has three major-market teams – the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox – very interested in him.  Ross has made it clear that he would like to stay in Boston and Larry Lucchino said earlier this week that the club is beginning the process of keeping him for next season and beyond. 

This one is kinda weird. Ross was on a one-year contract with the Red Sox at the time. But apparently the Yankees wanted him even after trading for Ichiro? And the non-contender Phillies wanted him too? The Red Sox were in last place at the time, so I guess they could’ve looked to trade Ross late in the season. Maybe Ross meant those teams would want him when he became a free agent after the season? I dunno. The Diamondbacks signed him to a three-year deal worth $26M after the season and he played 177 total games for them due to injuries.

September 25th, 2012: Yankees Designated Justin Thomas For Assignment

The Yankees have designated left-hander Justin Thomas for assignment, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (via Twitter).  After the Red Sox removed Thomas from their 40-man roster in May, he was claimed by the Yankees and posted a 3.45 ERA, a 2.45 K/BB ratio and a 7.7 K/9 rate in 30 games (six of them starts) for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season.

Thomas allowed three runs in three innings with the Yankees in September 2012, before getting dropped from the roster. He hasn’t played in the big leagues since. He hasn’t played anywhere since 2014. Thomas spent 2013 in Triple-A and Japan, and 2014 in Triple-A and Korea. There are so, so many of these “pitched in four games with the Yankees in September 20XX” relievers out there. Too many to remember. I remembered Thomas though, for whatever reason. I remember Mike Zagurski too.

Yankees acquire Erik Kratz from Indians for cash

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have brought in some extra catcher depth. The team announced this afternoon they’ve acquired veteran journeyman backstop Erik Kratz from the Indians for cash considerations. He is not on the 40-man roster and I assume he’s heading to Triple-A Scranton for the time being.

Kratz, 37, hit .270/.359/.472 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 326 Triple-A plate appearances with the Indians before the trade. He has MLB time with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Royals, Astros, and Pirates, and is a career .200/.248/.362 (62 wRC+) big league hitter. Twenty-four homers in 647 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at though.

At some point Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine will have their appeals heard and serve their suspensions stemming from last week’s brawl with the Tigers. Kyle Higashioka, the third catcher, is currently on the Triple-A disabled list with a shoulder injury. Also, Triple-A backup Wilkin Castillo left last night’s game with a knee injury, so yeah. The Yankees needed another backstop.

Midnight tonight is the deadline for teams to acquire players and have them be eligible for the postseason roster, and that’s a hard deadline. The player doesn’t have to be in the big leagues or even on the 40-man roster, but he has to be in the organization by midnight, otherwise no postseason. No exceptions or loopholes. Kratz is postseason eligible for the Yankees.

Jordan Montgomery was sent to Triple-A and that was the plan all along

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following yesterday afternoon’s win the Yankees announced they’ve sent Jordan Montgomery down to Triple-A Scranton, which gets the team back to a normal five-man rotation. They haven’t announced who is coming up to replace him, but I’d bet on it being a boring eighth reliever. Maybe Bryan Mitchell so Adam Warren and Chad Green don’t have to throw mop-up innings? We’ll see.

The decision to send Montgomery down comes after a strong start against a very good Indians team. Montgomery held them to one run in five innings and needed only 65 pitches to do it. Joe Girardi pulled him because he said he felt it was time to go to his rested bullpen in a close game, so he did. And hey, it worked it. The bullpen put up zeroes for four innings and the Yankees won. They really needed that win.

Sending Montgomery down after such a strong performance tells us the Yankees planned to send him down all along. They used a six-man rotation last week to give everyone a little extra rest, but they don’t want to do it long-term, and Montgomery is the odd man out. He pitched well last time and Jaime Garcia didn’t, yet Garcia remains. Why? Because the Yankees don’t base decisions on one game or one start. I mean:

  • Montgomery since July 1st: 5.29 ERA (4.26 FIP) in seven starts and 34 innings
  • Garcia since July 1st: 4.88 ERA (2.47 FIP) in five starts and 31.1 innings

Montgomery was pretty terrible in July. He made six starts and could only get through five full innings three times. I assume that tough month was one reason the Yankees went out and got two starters at the trade deadline even though they only had one open rotation spot. Montgomery seemed to be hitting a bit of a rookie wall there. It’s okay. It happens.

Two things about this decision. One, it’s not permanent. Montgomery will be back soon enough. I’m guessing we’ll see him again before rosters expand on September 1st. Two, the Yankees need to keep Montgomery’s workload in check. (Luis Severino‘s too, and that’s why I think Montgomery will be back pretty soon.) Sending Montgomery to Triple-A makes it easier to space out his starts and cap him at five innings or whatever they want to do. Wins and losses don’t really matter down there.

Also, if you’re into such things, sending Montgomery down for at least ten days allows the Yankees to “buy” an extra year of control. Right now Montgomery is due to become a free agent at age 30 during the 2022-23 offseason. Ten days in the minors pushes that back to age 31 and the 2023-24 offseason. I don’t think that’s a big deal or motivation for the demotion at all. Buy the extra year for elite prospects. Everyone else isn’t worth the hassle.

Anyway, Montgomery was sent down and the Yankees will (presumably) give him a bit of a breather so he can be ready to help them down the stretch and into September. You know they’re going to need him. They were either going to have to find a way to keep him fresh and rested at the MLB level, which is hard to do, or they could do it in Triple-A. Garcia allows them to do it in Triple-A. There’s not much more to it than that.

Yankees acquire Sonny Gray from A’s for three prospects

(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)

The Yankees have landed their young controllable starting pitcher. Prior to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Yankees acquired Sonny Gray and $1.5M in international bonus money from the Athletics for prospects James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Officially official.

The trade comes after days of rumors, which is uncharacteristic for the Yankees. They tend to keep these things quiet. The big David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle/Todd Frazier trade with the White Sox came out of nowhere two weeks ago. The Yankees and A’s haggled over the prospects, and according to Jon Heyman, Kaprielian was the deciding piece. Once the Yankees agreed to include him, the deal was done.

Gray, 27, has pitched to a 3.43 ERA (3.24 FIP) in 16 starts and 97 innings so far this season. Here’s my Scouting The Market post. He is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019, and as a ground ball heavy right-hander with big time competitiveness, Gray fits what the Yankees need pretty well. Keep the ball on the ground and you’ll do well in Yankee Stadium and the other hitter friendly AL East parks.

Coming into the season I ranked Kaprielian, Mateo, and Fowler as the Nos. 5, 7, and 12 prospects in the farm system, respectively. All have seen their stock slip since then, however. Kaprielian blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. Mateo continued to struggle with High-A Tampa before being promoted to Double-A Trenton and going on a hot streak. Fowler blew out his knee earlier this month.

This trade boils down to this: three risky prospects for one risky starting pitcher (and international bonus money). Gray is healthy right now, though he has had some injury problems over the last 18 months or so. Fowler and Kaprielian are currently rehabbing from major surgeries and Mateo’s performance hasn’t always matched up with his loud tools. The A’s are banking on upside here. This is very much a boom or bust trade.

The Gray trade combined with the previous Robertson, Kahnle, Frazier, and Jaime Garcia trades make this the busiest deadline in quite some time for the Yankees. They were busy in 2014 (Martin Prado, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew), though those moves did not come close to this magnitude. The Yankees are going for it, both now in 2017 and going forward. It’s awfully exciting.

Yankees acquire Jaime Garcia from Twins for Littell, Enns

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

9:34am ET: The Yankees have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Officially official. The press release says the deal happened last night. Anyway, the trade is as reported. Garcia and cash for Littell and Enns.

8:56am ET: The Yankees have landed their new fifth starter. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman report the Yankees have an agreement in place to acquire lefty Jaime Garcia from the Twins for pitching prospects Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns. Littell was scratched from his scheduled Double-A start last night, which was a pretty good indication something was up. Mark Feinsand says the Twins will eat a big chunk of the remainder of Garcia’s $12M salary. The Yankees are only responsible for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

Interestingly enough, both Ken Rosenthal and Jeff Passan say the Garcia trade does not end the pursuit of Sonny Gray. The Yankees still want him, though now they don’t need to pursue him with as much urgency. Garcia has some bullpen experience and even though they’ve yet to admit it, the Yankees are going to have to watch Luis Severino‘s and Jordan Montgomery‘s workloads down the stretch. Getting two starters would make that much easier.

Garcia, 31, was just traded from the Braves to the Twins last week. Minnesota has lost four of their five games since the trade to continue to slip out of the postseason race, so they decided to flip the rental Garcia. That doesn’t happen too often. Garcia allowed three runs in 6.2 innings in his one start with the Twins on Friday. He has a 4.29 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 19 starts and 119.2 total innings this year. Here’s my Scouting The Market post on Garcia.

The 21-year-old Littell came over from the Mariners in the James Pazos trade last year. He has a 1.87 ERA (2.87 FIP) overall this season, including a 2.05 ERA (2.31 FIP) in seven starts and 44 innings with Double-A Trenton. The numbers are undeniably great. Littell is a command pitcher without blow-you-away stuff and the consensus is he’s a future back-end starter, and hey, that’s not nothing. You’d rather develop your own fifth starter than pay $10M for one in free agency.

Enns, 26, has a 2.29 ERA (2.73 FIP) in 39.1 Triple-A innings this season. He missed more than two months with a shoulder strain. Enns has been unreal since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2015, throwing 239 total innings with a 1.51 ERA (2.92 FIP). Enns is another command pitcher, though he’s several years older than Littell and has an injury history. Littell ranked 29th in my lasted prospect rankings. Enns was unranked.

Last week the Twins traded righty 19-year-old rookie ball right-hander Huascar Ynoa to get Garcia from the Braves. He’s having a poor year statistically (5.26 ERA and 4.40 FIP in 25.2 innings) though he offers power stuff and is a similarly ranked prospect as Littell. A back-end of a team’s top 30 list prospect. Ynoa offers more ceiling and Littell more probability. That’s a very Twins thing to do. Trade ceiling for probability. Enns is pretty much a throw in.

It’s also worth nothing there are 40-man roster considerations here. Littell will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this coming offseason and he would have been very much on the 40-man roster bubble for the Yankees. I think they would have found a way to squeeze him onto the roster, though it wasn’t a lock. Also, the Yankees were going to have to clear a 40-man spot for Garcia, and Enns figured to be near the front of the DFA line.

The Yankees desperately needed a new fifth starter in the wake of Michael Pineda‘s elbow injury — heck, you could argue they needed another starter even before Pineda got hurt — and now they have one in Garcia. Ground ball heavy lefties are always good to have in Yankee Stadium. If the Yankees can manage to reel in Gray in addition to Garcia, suddenly the rotation looks mighty strong the rest of the way. Getting one starter was crucial though, and the Yankees have done that.

Scouting the Trade Market: Sonny Gray

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Given where they sit in the standings, it seems likely the Yankees will add a starting pitcher before Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. The Yankees are one game back in the AL East and 1.5 games up on a wild card spot, so they’re a good weekend away from the division lead and a bad weekend away from not having a postseason spot. There’s a clear need for another starter and the Yankees have already made one big trade. No sense stopping there.

The starter the Yankees have been most connected to these last few weeks is Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray. In fact, earlier this week Mark Feinsand reported the Yanks and A’s were “making progress toward a deal” that would not only bring Gray to New York, but first baseman Yonder Alonso as well. That was reported Tuesday, and we’ve yet to hear anything since, so who knows. The 27-year-old Gray is available though. Let’s see whether he actually makes sense for the up-and-coming Yankees.

Current Performance

Tuesday night’s start was likely Gray’s last with the A’s — he is lined up to start Sunday, though I would be surprised if Oakland lets him make that start — and during that start he allowed four runs (zero earned) in six innings against the Blue Jays. He struck out nine. Gray threw a potential 1-6-3 double play ball into center field, so his own error led to the four unearned runs. Womp womp. Anyway, here are his numbers the last three years:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2015 208 2.73 3.45 20.3% 7.1% 52.7% 0.74 .265 .260
2016 117 5.69 4.67 18.2% 8.1% 53.9% 1.38 .372 .325
2017 97 3.43 3.24 23.5% 7.5% 56.7% 0.74 .292 .267

Gray finished third in the AL Cy Young voting behind Dallas Keuchel and David Price in 2015, was hurt and ineffective in 2016, and is back to being pretty great in 2017. He’s been especially good over his last six starts, throwing 39.1 innings with a 1.37 ERA (2.66 FIP).

Two things about Gray. One, he gets a lot of ground balls. Always has. Even last year, when he was terrible overall, Gray’s ground ball rate was well above the league average. And two, Gray’s platoon split is generally pretty small. He actually has a reverse split this year. Point is, he can get lefties out. Lots of ground balls and the ability to neutralize lefties are the skills you want in a right-handed pitcher in Yankee Stadium.

Another thing worth noting: Gray has a reputation for being a big game pitcher. He went toe-to-toe with peak Justin Verlander in Game Two of the 2013 ALDS (box score) — that was the 11th start of his big league career — and also threw a complete game shutout in Game 162 in 2014 (box score), which clinched a postseason spot for the A’s. That was a win or go home game. Even dating back to college, Gray has had a reputation for coming up huge in big games.

Current Stuff

For all intents and purposes, Gray is a four-pitch pitcher with usable fifth and sixth pitches. He’ll sit low-90s and top out at 96-97 mph with his four-seam fastball and sinker, and his two main secondary pitches are a mid-80s slider and low-80s curveball. Gray also throws a low-90s cutter and mid-80s changeup. Those are the fifth and sixth pitches. He’ll throw a few per start, but that’s really it.

The curveball is Gray’s moneymaker. That’s the pitch that got him drafted 18th overall in 2011 and the pitch that allows him to keep lefties in check. He can throw the curve for called strikes and bury it in the dirt for swings and misses. Here’s some video:

Gray throws his two fastballs, the four-seamer and sinker, roughly 62% of the time combined. The curveball and slider are pretty even at 15% each, and then the cutter and changeup (mostly changeup) fill out the rest. That has held pretty constant over the years. Nothing about Gray, neither his pitch selection nor his velocity, has changed following his injuries last year. His stuff has bounced back well.

If you watched all 88 pitches in that video (that was his start on May 24th of this year), you probably noticed Gray lived at the bottom of the zone. He pounds the lower half with his fastballs, and buries the curveball and slider down there too. Gray is listed at 5-foot-10. He’s not a big guy at all. It’s can be tough for short pitchers to get good downward plane, which is why so many of them are fly ball prone (coughChanceAdamscough). Gray’s never had that problem. Here is his 2017 fastball location heat map, via Baseball Savant:

sonny-gray-heat-mapBottom half of the strike zone, right where you want it. On any given day Gray goes out to the mound with two fastballs he locates at the knees, an out-pitch curveball, and a quality slider. And a changeup and cutter for show. This is not some garden variety back-end starter. Gray has already had one Cy Young caliber season and the stuff is there for him to put together more dominant seasons, especially since he is still only 27.

Injury History

Now, the bad news. Gray suffered the first notable injuries of his career last season. He missed two weeks with a right trap strain and then two months with a right forearm strain. Then, this spring, he suffered a right lat strain that caused him to miss April. The trap and lat injuries are kinda scary because a) those muscles are close together, and b) those muscles are close to the shoulder. Forearm strains are often a precursor to elbow problems too.

For what it’s worth, Gray returned from the lat strain in May and has been fine since. No lat problems, no trap problems, no forearm problems, and no elbow problems. That doesn’t make his injury history any less scary, of course. Arm injuries are arm injuries. Maybe the forearm strain will be like Andrew Miller‘s forearm strain — Miller missed a month with a forearm strain in 2015 — and be a true one-time thing. That’s the hope. Either way, this is three pretty significant injuries to the arm/arm area within the last 14 months or so.

Contract Status

This season is the first of Gray’s three years of arbitration eligibility. He’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2018 and 2019 before qualifying for free agency during the 2019-20 offseason. He’s not a rental. Trade for him at the deadline and you get him for two and a half seasons, meaning three potential postseason runs.

Gray will make $3.575M this season, which is surprisingly low first time arbitration salary for a guy with a top three Cy Young finish under his belt. Doug Fister made $4M his first trip through arbitration. Fister’s arbitration salaries went from $4M to $7.2M to $11.4M, so if you’re looking to get an idea of what Gray could make the next two years, that seems like a decent guideline. Also, Gray has two minor league options remaining, not that it really matters.

What Would It Take?

This is where it gets difficult. Pitchers like Gray don’t get traded often, and even when they do get traded, it usually doesn’t happen at midseason. Deals like this tend to wait for the offseason. The Jose Quintana trade was the most notable non-rental pitcher trade since … I guess David Price in 2014, when he went from the Rays to the Tigers?

Because of that, there is no good trade benchmark for Gray, an above-average starter with two and a half years of control. It’s not a matter of me not finding a good benchmark. The benchmark doesn’t exist. Quintana and Cole Hamels were traded three and a half years prior to free agency. Price was traded one and a half years prior to free agency. Rentals? There have been a ton of them. Two and a half years? Nothing. Sigh.

Here is everything we know about the Gray sweepstakes right now:

  • The A’s are prioritizing a young center fielder in trade talks and like Estevan Florial. The Yankees are not against including him a trade package. [Jon Morosi, Mark Feinsand]
  • Oakland is pushing teams for their final bids, and it is believed the Yankees have made the strongest offer. Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, and Justus Sheffield are reportedly off-limits. [Joel Sherman, Feinsand]
  • The A’s have had high-ranking executives, including director of player development Billy Owens, scouting Double-A Trenton and Low-A Charleston. [Morosi, Josh Norris]

In my completely amateur know nothing opinion, the Athletics would not be wrong to ask for a top prospect like Torres or Frazier in a Gray trade. The Yankees insist those guys, as well as their other top close to MLB prospects, are untouchable. Fortunately the Yankees have enough farm system depth that they should be able to swing a trade without those guys.

The big name being bandied about the last few days is Jorge Mateo, who has torn the cover off the ball this last month with Double-A Trenton after being pretty crummy the previous year and a half with High-A Tampa. Building a package around Mateo and Florial doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. In fact, it strikes me as a downright bargain if those guys are the two center pieces. We’re talking about a 27-year-old pitcher under control through 2019 who has already proven he can pitch at a Cy Young level. Those dudes aren’t cheap.

The injuries undoubtedly knock the price down. A healthy Gray would command tippy top prospects. There’s also this: the A’s have made some pretty crummy trades lately. The Josh Donaldson trade is the best example, though the two Jeff Samardzija trades weren’t great either. That the A’s are reportedly seeking a young center fielder tells you they’re prioritizing specific positions rather than simply accumulating the best talent possible. That’s what led to the Donaldson trade being so ridiculous. Long story short: Gray won’t come cheap, but the injuries do drag his price down, plus Oakland’s trade track record is questionable.

Does He Make Sense?

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Yes. There is not a doubt in my mind. Gray is young (27), controllable (through 2019), very good overall (career 3.42 ERA and 3.56 FIP), ground ball heavy (career 54.4%), and able to shut down lefties (career .283 wOBA). And he has a history of performing well in big games. What more could you want? The only negative here is the injuries. That’s it. The stuff and underlying skills are really, really good.

I have no doubts about Gray the pitcher being able to succeed in New York and the AL East. He’s very good and the guy is tough as nails. My only concern is the injuries. That’s all. The lat, trap, and especially the forearm injuries worry me and I assume they worry the teams interested in acquiring him. The Yankees reportedly made a strong offer for Quintana but aren’t going all-out for Gray, presumably because Quintana’s track record of durability is so great.

The way I see it, Gray is riskier than most — you could easily argue Mateo and Florial are riskier than most top 100 prospects — but he also offers more upside than most. The Yankees need pitching beyond this season and Gray is right smack in the prime of his career, so you’re getting peak years about of this guy. It’s almost like he’s a buy low candidate, right? Everyone loves buy low candidates. If the Yankees can build a trade package around Mateo and Florial rather than someone like Torres and Florial, I think Gray’s worth the risk. He could end up looking like a bargain.