If the New York Yankees indeed want to deal right-handed pitcher Sonny Gray, then the San Diego Padres should be in discussions with the team. The Padres could use the potential in Gray, who has clearly worn out his welcome in the Big Apple.
Yankees’ G.M. Brian Cashman has made it clear that Sonny Gray is on the trade block in the upcoming winter.
Gray’s struggles in the season forced him to the bullpen and he wasn’t carried at all on New York’s postseason roster. After having a sterling career in Oakland, Gray was sent to the Yankees in a high-profile trade that involved two of the Yankee’s better prospects.
However, Gray hasn’t panned out in pinstripes and the New York fans and media have let him know how they feel about his struggles. The high-profile media of New York can be a thorn in the side of many players, and has caused the downfall of many a career. A change of scenery might just be what the doctor ordered regarding Gray’s career.
Enter the San Diego Padres. Just south of Oakland, San Diego has been a destination for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up, and the Padres are in need of an arm to lead their rotation. Both the Yankees and the Padres fit each other’s needs, and Cashman should be giving A.J. Preller a phone call to discuss a swap of pieces.
First, why should the Padres be interested in a pitcher like Gray? It is true that he had his struggles, posting a 4.90 ERA with a 1.50 WHIP, while a FIP of 4.17 and a 4.10 xFIP doesn’t exactly paint a prettier picture. He also generated a career-high 3.94 BB/9, and opponents were hitting .265 off of him.
There is a silver lining to Gray, however. Away from Yankee Stadium, Gray collected a 3.17 ERA and yielded just three homers in 71 innings of work, while he pitched to a 6.98 ERA and allowed 11 home runs in 59 1/3 innings when he was at home, showing that he was a better pitcher away from Yankee Stadium. His HR/9 rating, while still very high, was his lowest since 2016 at 0.97 and he was still collecting strikeouts at a solid clip with an 8.49 K/9.
Gray may have also suffered from a case of bad luck with a .326 BABIP. His BABIP may be fueled due to a career-high hard contact rate of 35.5%, while his medium contact rate dropped from 55.3% in 2017 to 45.4% in 2018. All of these hard hits usually drop in the field for a base hit, whereas a soft hit ball usually finds a fielder for an out. So, the more hard contact a pitcher allows, the higher the BABIP is.
What didn’t help Gray’s BABIP is the Yankees’ questionable defense, which consistently ranked in the mid-to-bottom tier of the Majors, according to Fangraphs. That’s not good for a pitcher like Gray, who induced ground balls at a 50% clip. The Yankees were ranked at 18th regarding Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) and 14th in DRS (a decent number, but keep in mind the Padres ranked seventh with 48 DRS compared to the Yankees 26 DRS). Gray’s ERA may have been inflated because the Yankees’ defense just couldn’t make the plays they were supposed to or some balls dropped in for hits that shouldn’t have dropped in at all.
Gray would also benefit from having Darren Balsley as his pitching coach. Balsley is well-known for helping struggling pitchers find new life by implementing a tweak in mechanics or adding a new pitch. Tyson Ross saw his career blossom as a result of Balsley’s tutelage, while former Padre Jhoulys Chacin now pitches for the Milwaukee Brewers (who are currently in the playoffs as of this writing) after a quick stop with San Diego, not to mention the dozens of players who sing praises about Balsley. It stands to reason that Gray’s career would see a boost in efficiency under the watchful eyes of Balsley.
For the Padres, they can take advantage of the 13 players who need to be protected on the 40-man roster in terms of crafting a trade package for Gray. While the Padres may not be interested in trading a Chris Paddack or an Anderson Espinoza, they could afford to trade one of their younger pitchers currently on the 40-man roster, like Brett Kennedy or Robbie Erlin, who will attract trade interest after an impressive showing following Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees also have many players who are set to be free agents, including bullpen pieces like Zach Britton and David Robertson, along with veteran pieces like Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, and Brett Gardner. New York would be interested in some of the younger (and cheaper) players the Padres have to replace those players.
Cory Spangenberg provided similar, if not slightly better, numbers than Walker while serving as a useful utility infielder, and unlike the free agent Walker, Spangenberg is still eligible for arbitration and won’t be a free agent until 2020. Michael Gettys and Edward Olivares, two players who must be protected on the 40-man roster, are two outfielders who have the potential to carve out a role similar to Gardner. Or if the Yankees want a major league player, Travis Jankowski is also arbitration-eligible and can serve as an excellent center fielder and a speedy leadoff hitter (albeit with less power than Gardner). If the Yankees need a bullpen piece, they may be interested in a reunion with Kirby Yates, who won’t be a free agent until 2021 and excelled as the closer after a July trade of All-Star Brad Hand.
The Yankees, if they want to resign players like McCutchen, Gardner, and Walker, will have to spend quite a bit of money to retain their services. Throw in rotation stalwart CC Sabathia and revelation J.A. Happ, while adding in the contract of Giancarlo Stanton, and the Yankees are going to have a tough time staying under the luxury tax limit. Plus, if they desire to enter the Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado sweepstakes (which they most certainly will), they will have to find ways to save some money to maximize the number of dollars they throw at one (or both) free agents. A trade with San Diego not only solves the problem of replacing the players, but it saves them money that would help towards making a big splash on the free agent market.
Both parties have pieces that fit needs the other team has. Gray is an intriguing buy-low candidate who has the potential to be an ace for the Padres, while the Yankees can find younger and cheaper alternatives to their impending free agents in San Diego. Preller will most likely be calling Cashman in regards to a trade, and it is one that would see both San Diego and New York walking away from the table as happy campers.