The New York Yankees ordinarily would not telegraph their desire to trade one of their own players, as there is hardly a clumsier negotiating strategy than unmasked aspirations. Even certainty draws vulnerability. Best, most often, to speak softly and carry a straight face, see what comes of that. Sonny Gray.
Sometimes, however, there’s hardly getting around the obvious.
And so the spectacle that was the three-month town square auction of pitcher Sonny Gray, held as respectfully and with as much dignity as there possibly could have been, concluded Monday with a gavel clack and a deal with the Cincinnati Reds, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The complete deal was Gray and minor-league pitcher Reiver Sanmartin for infield prospect Shed Long and a draft pick. But that was the just the first step in what became a complicated deal.
The #Reds have acquired RHP Sonny Gray and LHP Reiver Sanmartin from the Yankees in exchange for IF Shed Long and the Reds’ 2019 Competitive Balance Round A draft pick. Gray has agreed to terms on a 3-year contract extension through the 2022 season, with a club option for 2023. pic.twitter.com/79d9qFTarK
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) 21 de enero de 2019
The Reds gave Gray a contract extension, sources tell Yahoo Sports, that tacks three seasons onto his contract for $30.5 million. That’s in addition to the $7.5 million Gray will make in 2019. The contract also comes with a $12 million club option for 2023.
Then the Seattle Mariners reportedly got involved, as reports from ESPN indicate that the Yankees took Long and flipped him to Seattle for 21-year-old outfielder Josh Stowers.
And that ends it — Gray’s near 200-inning gig as a Yankee, the 4.51 ERA that seems low in retrospect, the uptick in hits and walks and home runs and suspense, the discontent at Yankee Stadium, and the rising suspicion that Gray and the Bronx, for whatever reasons, would never be a fit.
Of his final nine appearances for the Yankees, those across August and September, seven were out of the bullpen, to which he’d been demoted. He did not appear in the postseason, as he was not on the roster. In 11 starts and four relief appearances at Yankee Stadium in 2018, across 59 1/3 innings, his ERA was 6.98, a number that rather exposes an organization’s next inclination.
Acquired for three players in mid-summer 2017 from the Oakland A’s, Gray was once a young and developing ace. He was the undersized right-hander who’d gone toe to toe with Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 playoffs, as a rookie. He won 14 games the following season and was third in the American League Cy Young vote the season after that, as a 25-year-old. In three seasons since he has endured a variety of injuries, made 72 starts and has a 4.59 ERA.
There would be no hiding that behind vague accounts of lost release points, wandering fastballs, inattentive curveballs and hopeful bullpen sessions. The Yankees traded for Lance Lynn late last season to temporarily cover for Gray and this winter, in order to render him expendable, traded for James Paxton, re-signed CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ, and built out their already formidable bullpen with Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino. Gray was at best sixth — behind Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Paxton, Happ and Sabathia — on their rotation’s depth chart.
In early November Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spoke openly of the inevitable trade of Gray, telling reporters then, “Once we feel comfortable with the return, we’ll make the decision to move him. But the plan is to move him because I don’t want to keep going through the process of something that won’t work here.”
The Reds, meantime, seem intent on ending the organizational malaise that has presented itself over four consecutive last-place finishes in the National League Central. Attendance at Great American Ball Park has fallen in each of the past five seasons. In 2018, the Reds ranked 13th in attendance among the 15 NL clubs, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins.
To that end, the Reds have hired a new manager (David Bell), traded for starting pitchers Tanner Roark, Alex Wood and Gray, and traded for outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig. All but Gray are scheduled to be a free agent at the conclusion of 2019, and every one of them could be traded before then, if 2019 goes the way recent seasons have. But, for a team whose team ERA was next-to-last in the National League, and whose starting pitching was especially poor, the Reds do appear hopeful of putting up a fight. Some of that will depend on Gray and whether he can be a sturdy starting pitcher again.
Tim Brown MLB columnist