Athletics Starter Sonny Gray. Photo: Kelly L-Cox- USA Today
Major League Baseball's trade deadline is ten days away and Sonny Gray may be the most attractive trade chip left given his age and amount of club control left.
He's also may be having the best year of his career.
It's likely he would've been moved last season if he hadn't dealt with injuries and pitched to a 5-11 record and 5.69 ERA while healthy. Though his 4.67 FIP suggests he deserved a slightly better fate.
Selling low on Gray a season after he posted a 14-7 record with a 2.73 ERA and finished third in AL Cy Young voting wouldn't have been good for business.
The A's held on to him, hoping he'd return closer to his 2015 form and rebuild his value.
Gray suffered a lat injury in spring training and didn't make his season debut until May 2nd. He struggled out of the gate but has been great ever since.
This season, the 27-year-old has pitched to a 6-4 record, 3.66 ERA with 85 strikeouts in 91 innings. His peripherals of a 8.41 K/9, 2.77 BB/9 and 3.36 FIP are all solid.
After a sharp drop in both categories last season, Gray has been generating the highest swinging strike and O-swing percentages of his career.
Although it was only a matter of time when he's always been able to throw a breaking ball like this.
Gray has also been throwing the most first pitch strikes of his career, and the more often a pitcher is ahead in the count, the better.
Gray's value has definitely rebounded this season and it's likely the highest it's going to be. He has two seasons of club control left as he'll hit free agency following the 2019 season.
Teams will pay for control and they'll also pay for youth. At 27, Gray qualifies.
Craig Edwards of Fangraphs.com broke down Gray and the Summer Trade Market in May and mentioned that a team may pay quite a price for his final two seasons of control.
According to brooksbaseball.net, Gray throws a fastball with sinking action. It sits around 94mph. He also throws a slider, a hard changeup and curveball. His fastball and sinker generate a ton of ground balls, keep in mind he's a career 54% ground ball pitcher. His curve bites hard and includes a sweeping glove-side movement. His slider generates a lot of swings-and-misses and ground balls. It also features some glove-side cut.
Gray's fastball velocity has rebounded this year after dropping off by almost a half a mile an hour last season.
It doesn't look like much, but any time a pitcher loses velocity they may struggle to adjust.
Gray's ability to generate ground balls is roughly 11 per cent better than the league average and that's been key in his turnaround this season. He pitches in a pitchers paradise in Oakland, but he has the worst defense in baseball behind him, as the A's have a horrifying -56 defensive runs saved as a team.
Last season Gray was victimized by a contact rate of around 82 per cent. This year he's reduced his contact rate 74 per cent. Around five per cent better than league average.
It sounds like Gray is a front of the line starter. No one will disagree with that, but he's a number two starter rather than a number one. He's on the Marcus Stroman side of the spectrum rather than the Corey Kluber side of it.
Gray, owner of a career 3.58 FIP, is a dependable front of the line starter who pitches effectively deep into games. Gray is number two starter, but can slot in as a number one if needed.
Gray's peak value is now, and according to ESPN's Buster Olney the Yankees, Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Braves and Indians are all interested in the right-handers services.
It's unlikely the Cubs, Indians or Yankees will give up the prospect ask and the Braves may choose to sell.
The Astros play in the AL West with Oakland and the price to trade a good, controllable pitcher to a divisional rival could be too high.
Although if Houston feels that a playoff rotation of Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., and Gray will put them over the top, they'd likely do it. On the other hand upgrading their bullpen and hoping Collin McHugh stays healthy and pitches well is another option.
This leaves the Brewers as the team to acquire Gray. Milwaukee has surprised the baseball world, sitting at 52-46 and one game up on the defending champion Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
According to reports, the Brewers are looking for controllable pitching and USA Today's Bob Nightengale notes, the Brewers are the "most aggressive" in the Gray sweepstakes.
The Cubs made the first move when they acquired Quintana. Now the Brewers make the next one with the acquisition of Gray.
The Brewers have one of the better farm systems in baseball, though they may balk at trading top prospects like Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Josh Hader.
The benefit of having a good farm means they have the depth to get a deal done.
Making sense of the move:
As it stands, the Brewers starting rotation consists of Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Matt Garza, Junior Guerra and Brent Suter, who's replacing an injured Chase Anderson.
While Nelson has been great this season (3.43 ERA, 3.22 FIP and a 9.85 K/9) as has Anderson (2.89 ERA, 8.47 K/9 and a 3.43 FIP), neither have a track record showing their success is sustainable with career FIP's of 4.18 and 4.31, respectively. They're likely due for regression down the stretch.
Guerra hasn't been able to repeat his rookie success, battling injuries and posting a 4.77 ERA and 7.11 FIP while healthy. Davies has struggled as well, with a 4.76 ERA and 4.88 FIP along with a 15.2 strikeout percentage, about six and a half per cent below league average.
Pictured: Brewers starter Zach Davies. Who has struggled this season after enjoying a successful 2016. Photo: John Minchillo/ Associated Press
Garza has been solid this season with a 3.84 ERA and 3.99 FIP. Although he has struggled with consistency and injuries since joining the Brew Crew in 2014, making him difficult to trust down the stretch.
This is what makes Gray a fit. He gives the Brewers a reliable front-of-the-line arm and solidifies the rotation. He'd also be the anchor of the rotation as the Brewers push for the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
This isn't just about a 2017 playoff race, though. It's about the future too. Gray isn't a rental, meaning the Brewers would have him beyond this year and can build their rotation around him, putting their prospects in a position to succeed.
It's about contending this season and creating stability for the future.
Sonny Gray would be the anchor of the Brewers rotation. Photo: John Hefti/ USA TODAY Sports
Milwaukee receives: RHP Sonny Gray
Oakland receives: RHP Corbin Burnes, SS Isan Diaz, INF Jake Gatewood and OF Monte Harrison
The main pieces of this deal are Burnes and Diaz. Ranked as Milwaukees number five and six prospects on Baseball Americas midseason top 10.
Burnes, 22 has shot up the rankings this season, posting a 1.09 ERA in 107.1 innings between the Class-A Advanced Carolina Mudcats and Class-AA Biloxi.
From baseballdraftreport.com, Burnes features a high 90's fastball with sinking action, an above average changeup, as well as a slider and curveball that flash above average upside.
Burnes excels at generating ground balls which he's done at around 53 per cent. He's also done a good job at limiting line drives, a key in his development.
The big right-hander profiles as a number three starter and would create a strong future rotation with A.J Puk, Grant Holmes and Sean Manaea in Oakland.
Brewers Prospect Isan Diaz. Photo: Buck Davidson/MiLB
Diaz, 21, has plus power for a player at his age and position. He broke out last season, hitting .264/.358./.469 including 20 home runs, 75 RBI and 71 runs scored with the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
He's struggled this season in High-A with the Mudcats, hitting just .231/.335/.391 (105 wRC+) for a .726 OPS and 11 long-balls, but he's maintained his good discipline with a 13 per cent walk rate. He has been better over the last month, hitting .268 with a .770 OPS.
Diaz is an average fielder with an above average arm. He may have to move to second base, but with potential 20 homer power his bat will keep him as an everyday player.
Gatewood, 21, has rebounded after a 2016 season with the Timber Rattlers where he hit .240/.268/.391 (91 wRC+) with 14 homers. So far with the Mudcats he's put up a .278/.351/.463 line (127 wRC+) for an .814 OPS with 11 homers and 47 RBI.
His walk rate has improved from 4.1 per cent last season to 9.5 per cent in 2017.
If he keeps improving and cuts down on the strikeouts (26.8 per cent), the six-foot-five Gatewood could be an impact bat in the majors.
His 2017 heat map indicates he can make contact to all areas of the field. Which is impressive for a hitter at his level and age.
Gatewood's 2017 heat map. Image: MLBFarm.com
Monte Harrison with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Photo: Ron Page/ USA Today Network- Wisconsin
Harrison, 21, recently earned a promotion to Carolina and has done well in his 17 games, slashing .242/.315/.470 (119 wRC+) after hitting .265/.359/.475 (136 wRC+) with Wisconsin. He has a ton of raw power, he's also a plus runner and above average defender, but Harrison's best tool is his cannon of an arm.
Like most prospects, he needs to cut down on the strikeouts (27 per cent) and develop a more consistent eye if he wants to succeed at the higher levels of the minors.
Harrison needs at least two more seasons before he's ready. He could develop into an annual 20/20 player with above average defense in either centre or right field.
It may seem like a big price to pay, and it is. Although this is what a young, controllable starter like Gray, is going to cost.
If Brewers GM David Stearns is reluctant to move Brinson, Hader or Ortiz, he'll have to get creative to land his man.
(All statistics from Fangraphs.com unless stated otherwise).