Blue Jays Trade Target: Is Sonny Gray the Answer?

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We’re approaching the end of June. It is nearly time for teams to start deciding if they are in contention or not and how they will go about responding to that decision. That’s right, the July 31 Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is approaching. As such, I’ve got an idea for you.

Our senior editor, Kyle, explored the idea of making a big move to gain some kind of advantage in the push for a playoff spot. At the end of it, one of our readers threw out a suggestion. Rather than go after an expensive addition like Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels the Blue Jays should look elsewhere. It turns out that his thinking coincided with an idea I floated to our group to gauge the reaction.

Blue Jays split the series with the Mets.

Erik suggested that the Blue Jays look out west to a familiar partner in Oakland. He says the Blue Jays should try to go after young stud, Sonny Gray and possibly Tyler Clippard. This might make sense for several reasons. But, after the Blue Jays won the last trade they made, the Athletics may not be so willing to listen. That said, at the time of writing, they are 29-40 and 11.5 games back of the Houston Astros. And, we all know that if the package is right, Billy Beane will listen on just about anything.

So, should the Blue Jays seriously consider going after one of the best young pitchers in the game? Here’s what they’d be paying for:

Right now, Gray leads the planet in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP. But, wait. There’s more. Gray is just 25! He doesn’t turn 26 until November. Want more of a reason than his performance and age? OK. He is under team control for the next 5 seasons. He won’t be a free agent until 2020. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2017, where his salary will surely rocket up, but it will be a much more palatable cost than trying to purchase this kind of starter on the open market. In 2014, Gray was a 3.1 WAR pitcher. Already this year, he’s at 2.8. Fangraphs has his value at $23.8M last season and $22.4M this year.

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays would be looking for a guy who can anchor this rotation and be a true #1 starter. Let’s suspend belief for a moment and imagine the Blue Jays do make the playoffs as is. They’d have to choose from their current rotation in a 3 game series. Do they like their chances with Mark Buehrle or R. A. Dickey? Over the course of the season, these two are fine options. But, when a game is on the line do you want to send out one of these two, or Drew Hutchison for that matter? Not me. Gray is a much better option.

In fact, Gray was the guy who clinched the 2013 AL West title for the A’s and went toe to toe with Justin Verlander and the Tigers the next week in the ALDS and pitched 8 scoreless innings. He was the Opening Day starter last season and threw the last game of the season to clinch the A’s playoff spot against the Rangers. He also opened this season.

Can he bring that success to Toronto? Well, his low HR/9 rate would surely have to do with hitting in O.co Stadium. A move to the Rogers Centre would likely cause an increase to that 0.4 mark. But, his HR/FB% of 4.8 makes me feel better, as does his 54% ground ball rate. To add to that, of the balls hit in play off him, 21% of those are hit hard, while 59% are considered medium strength.* So, the aspects that might change coming to the hitter friendly dome, aren’t actually that bad.

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In 2015, Gray increased the use of a cutter in his repertoire, which he throws still just 2.3% of the time. It has had tremendous value for him. It has been worth 4.35 runs above average per 100 pitches (wFC/C). He also features a fastball that has been sitting at 93mph for the last few seasons. He’ll vary his stuff to a curveball that hits just over 81mph.

So, really, the issue of whether the Blue Jays would be interested in pursuing Sonny Gray is not far fetched. He’d interest any club. Let’s just assume for a second that Oakland would be willing to listen on their young star. Like every other transaction, it will come down to cost. Since financial cost is not going to be a factor here, the Blue Jays will have to fork over the human capital they’ve developed over the last little while. “How much of it?” is the question.

If the Athletics would part with Tyler Clippard too, the already steep cost will certainly rise. Clippard is owed the balance of $8.3M for this season. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. The Blue Jays will look to use that as leverage. Clippard would be a rental. Still, he was an All Star last season and has 10 saves to his credit in 2015 to go with an ERA+ of 130. The financial cost of renting Clippard for a few months could scare off the Blue Jays. Bullpen help can be found much cheaper, perhaps from within. But, they should not let that stop them from pursuing Sonny Gray.

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We know that the Athletics’ GM, Billy Beane has no trouble working with Alex Anthopoulos, even on deals that seem improbable. Sonny Gray may be a bit more untouchable than Josh Donaldson was last fall, though. It might take a bigger effort to pry Gray away, if it is even possible. So, now comes the fun part.  Who do the Blue Jays offer up?

Now, our reader friend would offer Drew Hutchison, Jeff Hoffman and Mitch Nay. I’m not so sure I agree. Hutchison is still too tempting to give up on. But, he does present value. The real problem is that it takes a piece out of the rotation when we’re trying to add to it. Instead, I’d look at some combination of this: Matt Boyd, Scott Copeland, Anthony Alford, Chase De Jong, Dwight Smith Jr or even Miguel Castro. Dioner Navarro is likely not going to be of interest to Oakland as a rental. Jeff Hoffman should be off limits. As much as I’d like to not include Dalton Pompey (same for Smith Jr) if it gets you 5 years of Sonny Gray, it might be worth it. Heck, depending on the whole package, the Blue Jays might be asked for Daniel Norris. Each of these present varying levels of comfort.

And thus the problem presents itself. Do you give up a large package of “could be” talent for “is right now” talent. Lately, it seems as though Blue Jays fans are starting to covet the prospects more and more. Are we so passionate about them that we’d recoil from such a hefty price tag? Have we become like vampires who cower at the sun? Or, are we willing to take a risk to enjoy some Sonny days in Toronto?

*Numbers via Fangraphs.com

Next: No More Maicer. Izturis Surgery Ends his Time in Toronto

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