Blue Jays: Sonny Gray should be the prime target this trade deadline

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.Philadelphia Phillies At Cincinnati Reds June 1
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.Philadelphia Phillies At Cincinnati Reds June 1 /

The Toronto Blue Jays are in a difficult position as the season gets past the two months mark. While fans were hoping the team would be near the top of the AL East after some off-season acquisitions, the injury bug, as well as some poor outings from the pitching staff, has the Jays currently tied for 3rd in the AL East division with the New York Yankees, six games back of the leading Tampa Bay Rays.

While the offense has been generating run support and boasting absurd numbers so far this season, it’s no secret that the Blue Jays need some outside support to bolster the pitching staff, primarily in the starting rotation. With Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray are pitching well to begin the year, the Blue Jays would benefit from another veteran arm on the mound, especially if Steven Matz continues to struggle or Ross Stripling falls on hard times again. Alek Manoah has been pitching well albeit with small sample size, but truthfully, he alone will not help the Jays push towards the postseason, and putting that much pressure on a rookie pitcher is a tall order.

Enter Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray.

Brought up numerous times this off-season on the trade rumour websites, Gray is currently in his ninth season in the big leagues and is putting up very good numbers. Through nine starts, the right-hander sports a 3.64 ERA through 47.0 innings with 60 strikeouts to the tune of 8.6 strikeouts per nine inning rate and a 1.340 WHIP. Drafted by the Oakland Athletics back in 2011, Gray is currently in the second year of a three-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds that pays him roughly $10 million a season, with an affordable $12 million club option for the 2023 season. He did have a late start to the year after spending time on the injured list with a back injury but appears to be healthy heading into the mid-way mark of June.

Trading for a proven veteran pitcher like Sonny Gray could be the boost the Blue Jays need to get into the postseason this year, but the cost to acquire his services could make some fans very upset when top-tier prospects start getting dangled as trade bait.

While he did struggle with the New York Yankees a few years ago, his time with the Reds has revitalized his career and he is currently leading the rotation this season. With Cincinnati currently four games back in a tight NL Central division, there is a possibility that the club could choose to trade some assets at this year’s trade deadline.

While Gray would be an immense boost to the Blue Jays rotation, acquiring his services will not be cheap nor will it be easy.

The Tenessee native could become a hot commodity amongst playoff-bound teams this season, which will surely drive up the bidding price for his services like a two-bedroom condo in downtown Toronto. His team-friendly contract will also factor into the negotiations, as prospective teams will have to cough up some serious prospect capital to woo over the Reds organization, especially since Gray has potentially two more years (with the option included) left on his deal rather than being just a one-year rental.

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In the Blue Jays case, the negotiations will most likely start with including Simeon Woods-Richardson as a return, which makes sense considering SWR is one of the top pitching prospects in the farm system at the moment. This would be a tough pill to swallow, but including the right-hander could put the Blue Jays ahead of other suitors at the deadline if the Reds appear set to get a pitcher in return.

If the Jays really don’t want to include a prospect pitcher, the Reds will most likely move to shortstops Jordan Groshans and Orelvis Martinez as bargaining chips, with potential packages centered around one of these players (they could ask for both but I would balk at including both players in any deal). This may seem like a more reasonable option, in that the Jays do possess more system depth in the infield category compared to other areas of the diamond and could afford to lose one or two middle infielders.

Dangling a catcher like Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, or Gabriel Moreno could also be a starting point in trade negotiations but the Reds do have a solid catching prospect in Tyler Stephenson that may have the club looking for other positional needs. Could happen, but less likely.

Using Baseball Trade Values, a simulator that takes stats and contracts into account to generate potentially realistic trades, the following scenarios were deemed “acceptable” in terms of a potential trade going through:

  1. RHP Sonny Gray (38.1) for SS Jordan Groshans (40.1)
  2. RHP Sonny Gray (38.1) for C Alejandro Kirk (24.1), SS Miguel Hiraldo (8.5), and OF Will Robertson (2.6)
  3. RHP Sonny Gray (38.1) for SS Orelvis Martinez (26.6), 1B Rowdy Tellez (6.4), and RHP Adam Kloffenstein (4.5)
  4. RHP Sonny Gray (38.1) for RHP Simeon Woods-Richardson (19.8), SS Miguel Hiraldo (8.5), and 1B Rowdy Tellez (6.4)

You have to take the simulator with a grain of salt when it comes to performing real-life trades and determining value based on positional needs, but the reality is that if the Blue Jays want to go after an established arm at this season’s trade deadline, they will have to give up a top tier prospect in order to do it. There are a few prospects I would hope that the Blue Jays could keep away from being discussed in trade talks but the reality is that proven veteran talent requires significant prospect capital in return, even if the risk is high.

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Acquiring Gray would make the rotation a lot stronger to finish the season, a move that could be a difference-maker if the Blue Jays are contending when mid-July rolls around. This conversation obviously dies down if the club finds themselves way out of the playoff race in a month’s time, but if general manager Ross Atkins is serious about adding a proven veteran arm to the rotation to go for the championship glory, Sonny Gray could be available if the Jays are willing to take a hit in the farm system.