A Sonny Day In The Bronx
Source: Michael Reaves/Getty Images
It happened. It finally happened. After months of anticipation and speculation, the Yankees have completed a deal that sends starting pitcher Sonny Gray to the Cincinnati Reds. In return for Gray, the Yankees are receiving second base prospect Shed Long and a competitive balance pick, which is expected to be the 36th overall pick in the 2019 Draft. Immediately after acquiring Long, however, the Yankees flipped him to Seattle for outfield prospect Josh Stowers. Also, another part of this deal is a contract extension for Gray with the Reds. He agreed to a 3 year, $30.5 million deal with a club option for a fourth year.
Gray, who the Yankees acquired from the Oakland Athletics at the 2017 trade deadline, was a disaster in his time in New York. When acquired, it was a big deal for Yankees fans. The team gave up three solid prospects to get Gray, who was only two years removed from finishing third in AL Cy Young voting. Fans saw this move as a much-needed piece for the team to contend for the World Series. However, things did not go as planned. For the remainder of the 2017 season, he was actually pitching well; but, due to his performance during the 2018 campaign, fans were demanding for him to be traded. In 2018, he started 23 games and went 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA. Don't let the 11-9 record fool you, he was carried by an offence that broke the major league record for home runs in a season. Based on Gray's stat lines alone, he should've won between 3-5 games. He had a few incredible outings where he displayed the talent that he possesses, but other than those two or three starts, it was a disaster. It got to the point where he was actually moved to the bullpen because the team couldn't afford to waste a start on him. After the season, general manager Brian Cashman said publicly that Gray would be traded this off-season, which meant that his days in pinstripes were officially numbered.
Josh Stowers is a speedy outfielder who the Mariners selected 54th overall in the 2018 draft. He's also a full two years younger than Long and does not require a spot on the 40-man roster to be protected. In Class-A this past season, Stowers hit 5 home runs, drove in 28 runs, stole 20 bases and slashed .260/.380/.410 in 244 plate appearances. Although he's not known for his power, Stowers projects to be a 10 home run hitter in the majors; but, on the basepath is where he'll do most of his damage, as displayed by his 20 steals in less than 60 games played. Stowers is still a handful of years away from sniffing the majors, but this is a good move for a team that is trying to build it's organizational outfield depth back up after trading away numerous outfield prospects over the past few years.
Shed Long is a 5'8" second baseman who was a 12th round pick back in 2013. The 23-year old has started to pick things up over the last couple of seasons, which has led to him being ranked as the 7th best prospect in the Reds' system. Seventh best may not seem that impressive, but when you consider the fact that four of the Reds' prospects are in the top 51 of the MLB, it shows that Long may be even more legit than his ranking suggests. This past season, in 522 plate appearances in Double-A, Long hit 12 home runs, 56 RBI, stole 19 bases and slashed .261/.353/.412. He has to cut down the number of times he strikes out -- 123 in those 522 plate appearances -- but he'll have plenty of time to work on that over the next couple of seasons. Scouts project that he may be a 15-15 or even a 20-20 guy at the big league level, but only time will tell.
The 36th pick in the draft may not seem like a huge deal, but it is for two reasons. First, due to the compensation system in place for free agents, a team must forfeit a draft pick if they sign a free agent who was given a qualifying offer by their team at the end of the year. The pick that would be forfeited used to be a first-round pick, but because of a rule that was implemented a couple of seasons ago, first round picks aren't lost if a team signs a player that rejected a qualifying offer. So, in the Yankees' case, because they didn't exceed the luxury tax this past season and because they don't receive revenue sharing, they would lose their second-highest pick if they were to sign a player. Based on all of this, it may be possible that they acquired this pick to balance the potential forfeiture of their second-highest pick if they were to sign a player? However, only seven players received qualifying offers this season and the only one who has been remotely connected to the Yankees is Bryce Harper, although they seem to have no interest in him. So, this theory only comes into play if they come out of nowhere and sign Harper. If that doesn't happen, then this was basically the Yankees acquiring a pick just outside of the first round in order to draft another prospect. Side note: Manny Machado wasn't eligible to receive a qualifying offer since the Dodgers acquired him mid-season, so the acquisition of this pick has nothing to do with a potential Machado signing.
The other reason why this is a big deal is because of where the pick is. A lot of good players are taken around 36th overall. Since 2010, here's a list of players that have been taken 10 picks before, or 10 picks after the 36th selection. (I use this range because a lot of teams will pass on a player for a variety of reasons, so it's not crazy to think that a player projected to go top 30 slides down to #36).
2010 - Aaron Sanchez (34th), Noah Syndergaard (38th), Nicholas Castellanos (44th) 2011 - Joe Panik (29th), Jackie Bradley, Jr. (40th), Michael Fulmer (44th), Trevor Story (45th) 2012 - Jose Berrios (32nd), Mitch Haniger (38th), Lance McCullers, Jr. (41st) 2013 - Aaron Judge (32nd), Corey Knebel (39th) 2014 - Justus Sheffield (31st), Michael Kopech (33rd)
*I included Sheffield and Kopech because they are both top prospects who have been involved in major trades. Sheffield was traded to the Yankees for Andrew Miller in 2016 and then was traded to the Mariners for James Paxton in late 2018. Kopech was sent to the White Sox in exchange for Chris Sale in 2016.
As you can see, a lot of talent is drafted around the 36th spot, which bodes well for Brian Cashman and the Yankees as they try to replenish a farm system that has seen a lot of its top prospects be promoted or traded over the past couple of years.
I like Sonny Gray. I was excited when he became a Yankee, and he seems like a good guy. However, I couldn't be happier to see him get traded. You can be the best person in the world, but the fact of the matter is, if you don't perform in the Bronx, the fans will want you gone. There's no doubt in my mind that Sonny Gray is a talented pitcher. If I had to bet, I would put money on his having a big bounce-back year. However, that bounce-back year just couldn't be in a Yankees uniform. It sucks to say, but it's true. Some players just aren't meant to play in a big-time market like New York. The lights are brighter, the games mean more, the fans are louder. It all adds up to a ton of pressure that some people just aren't built to perform under. It's nobody's fault. As I said, I wish Sonny Gray could've been a good pitcher for the Yankees, but he wasn't. So, for the good of the team and player, this had to be done, and I hope both sides of this deal benefit from it.
Farewell, Sonny. We hardly knew ye.