It’s the time of the year where we’d think most of the offseason had settled, and yet over halfway through January the biggest fish remain unhooked. In free agency this is most true, with Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Dallas Keuchel, and Craig Kimbrel all unaffiliated, but one player who is all-but-certain to be traded remains unmoved: Yankees RHP Sonny Gray. Perhaps surprisingly, the Mariners are one of the teams that remains involved.
Yankees are working hard now on a trade for Sonny Gray. Appears to be getting more serious. Teams involved have included: reds, giants, brewers, a’s, padres, braves, mariners.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 17, 2019
It shouldn’t be long now before a move comes, if this rumor is to be trusted.
Yankees are indeed close to trading Sonny Gray. Teams are also asking about Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Holder.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 17, 2019
It’s felt as though Gray has been on the verge of being traded for over a year, but the Yankees have essentially decreed he will be dealt. If you’re just catching up, Gray’s 1,000 meter overview is this: A 29-year-old 5’10 starter with No. 3 starter stuff and entering his final year of arbitration, whose poor results in New York got him demoted to the bullpen and placed on the trading block. Since he’ll be a free agent after 2019, he makes for a curious fit with Seattle, and considering the number of other teams involved, I don’t expect the Mariners to come away with Gray in the end.
But we’re here already, so what would a deal look like? And what would the reasoning be for the Mariners?
The Mariners’ Opening Day rotation is unimposing. If we assume Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson begin the season in Tacoma, the former of which at least seems likely, Seattle is looking at filling five or six spots with Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi (and his unique schedule), Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc, Félix Hernández, Erik Swanson, and Roenis Elías. Gray could easily earn a spot - likely as the No. 3 starter even after a challenging 2018. For the Mariners, the deal would likely be a de facto challenge to their own player development team and coaching staff.
Dealing for this particular grown man whose given name is Sonny would essentially be an effort to Property Brothers him by July and flip Gray to a contending team for a greater return than they gave up. If no team bites, Seattle would likely be SOL, unless Gray’s final couple months make him so appealing that he’ll willingly deny a qualifying offer and allow the Mariners to recoup a draft pick from his departure. The third somewhat positive option is that Gray finds a perfect fit in Seattle and chooses to re-sign or sign an extension after discovering a true fit in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a slight precedent for this under the Mariners regime, as Wade LeBlanc had a career year thanks to his work with the Seattle coaching staff, but Gray has a greater track record of success and is no journeyman, despite his present poor favor.
Gray’s home-road splits have been discussed ad nauseam, but it’s still an incredible thing to see.
When he was with the Athletics, Gray started five games with great success at Safeco Field between 2013-to-2015, including one particularly memorable Night, so if you’re concerned those home troubles might follow him here, one, don’t trust five game sample sizes, and two, they won’t. Gray’s velocity remains in line with his career norms, and there’s plenty to indicate a change of scenery (and almost ANY other home ballpark) would aid positive regression.
But to bring Gray in Seattle will have to woo the Yankees, and doing so is an uncertain game. The newly cheese-paring Bronx Bombers are eager to rid themselves of the $7.5 million they owe Gray, but with several teams interested in acquiring Gray, the Mariners are in a tricky spot. Only Mitch Haniger represents a clear upgrade over any of the players in the Yankees lineup, and even he would likely be forced to left field. Dealing from their rotation would be possible, but unless Seattle can eat most of the money or the Yankees decide they desperately want 180 innings of “sure”, Mike Leake would be the only player able to play a useful role for New York.
Alternatively, Seattle could dig into its prospect list, perhaps sending the Yankees a player from their positions of relative depth - namely 1B, OF, or RP. Joey Curletta and Ryon Healy both could be appealing for the Yankees as projects with MLB tools but unproven or flawed approached at the moment. Unlike Daniel Vogelbach, both have minor league options, and the Yankees have had success translating high-minors producers into short-term solutions. New York has a couple players in that role already, however, including one-time Mariners Rule-5 pick Mike Ford and fragile former top prospect Greg Bird, so they may have had their fill.
The Yankees might be interested in one of Seattle’s OF prospects instead, but it would be extremely risky for Seattle to deal one of Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, or Dom Thompson-Williams for a shaky bet on a pitcher. Even if you are lukewarm on one or all of those options, they are the types of guys the Mariners need to see break out to come out positively in a 2021 contention schedule. Once-dealt to the AL East already, Eric Filia and International $ could be an appropriate exchange rate, as his flexibility at corner OF and 1B gives him a spot for AAA-Scranton-Wilkes Barre.
The last, and likeliest of the possibilities, is that Seattle flips a reliever New York’s way. The Yankees are in a constant 40-man crunch due to their investment in signing and retaining more minor league players than any other organization, so players like Art Warren or David McKay who have shown MLB talent but do not carry a 40-man roster designation, are the types of targets New York is likely searching for.
If a Sonny Gray deal does come to pass for Seattle, I would guess it will be for a reliever like Warren or McKay, and that seems like a mostly appropriate risk. I suspect, with the number of teams involved, New York will be able to squeeze more out, and while it may not be an unreasonable deal on their part, it won’t be an appropriate fit for the Mariners.