Position: Starting Pitcher
Age: November 7, 1989 (29)
Traditional Stats: 11-9, 4.90 ERA, 30 G, 23 GS, 130.1 IP, 1.496 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.5 K/9
Advanced Stats: 0.6 bWAR, 1.7 fWAR, 89 ERA+, 4.17 FIP
2018 Salary: $6.5 million
Free Agent: 2020
In 2017, Brian Cashman was lauded for his ability to obtain Gray from the Athletics without having to part with one of his top prospects. With Gray in the fold, the Yankees seemed to have solidified their rotation not just for the 2017 season, but also for years to come.
Gray was good enough for the Yankees in 2017. In 11 starts, he had a 3.72 ERA. In Game 4 of the ALCS, he shut out the Astros for five innings before handing the ball off the Yankees bullpen. This all should have been the building blocks for Gray having a big 2018 season for the Yankees.
Instead, Gray struggled throughout the 2018 season. He would lose his rotation spot, and entering this offseason, Cashman has told the other 29 teams the Yankees want to get rid of Gray. Specifically, Cashman said, “It hasn’t worked out thus far. I think he’s extremely talented. We’ll enter the winter, unfortunately, open-minded to a relocation. To maximize his abilities, it would be more likely best somewhere else.”
Given Gray’s 2018 season, his salary, and the Yankees motivation to deal him, it would appear Gray can be had for a discount. Well, at least a perceived discount.
In 2014 and 2015, Gray was a great pitcher. Over that time span, he was fifth in the American League with a 2.91 ERA and eighth with a 1.138 WHIP. He finished third in the 2015 Cy Young voting, and he saw his WAR rise from 3.3 in 2014 to 5.3 in 2015. Gray was pitching like a true ace, and at 25, it seemed like his career was about to take off.
An injury plagued 2016 season ensued. Since that 2016 season, Gray has pitched less like an ace than like a fourth or fifth starter. Over the past two seasons, Gray has a 4.15 ERA, 1.336 WHIP, and a 2.42 K/BB ratio. Considering he is 29 years old, and he had been working with a respected pitching coach in Larry Rothschild, you can legitimately make the case this is what Gray will be for the rest of his career.
Still, there is hope for more from Gray. Baseball Savant lists Gray as having the 10th best spin rate on his curveball. An even bigger surprise is Gray had the third best spin rate in the majors when utilizing his slider. That mark was tops among starting pitchers. Historically, Gray has only used his slider 13.14 percent of the time.
Making his pitch selection all the more puzzling is batters only hit .154 against his slider. On that basis alone, this makes the slider Gray’s best pitch. Certainly, is shows Gray is under utilizing the pitch. Maybe, if a team gets Gray to buy in on throwing more sliders, or more importantly, changing his pitch sequencing, someone may be getting themselves a real find this offseason.
Why the Mets Should Obtain Him
Right now, Jason Vargas is the Mets fifth starter, and the 35 year old pitcher is coming off a season where he had a 5.77 ERA. Put another way, while you may have the utmost confidence in the Mets top four starters, this does not mean the Mets are set in the rotation.
The obvious retort is Seth Lugo can slide into the rotation. The problem with that line of thinking is Lugo has a torn UCL, which makes you question if he can last a full year in the rotation. More importantly, Lugo was the only Mets reliever who pitched well last year. When you subtract him from that bullpen, you create an even bigger hole than there had already been.
Now, the Mets could sign another starter, but Vargas cost $17 million, and that was for an old pitcher with little upside.
If the Mets can obtain Gray at a discount, the team is getting someone who can put up better stats than Vargas promises to put up next season. With Gray working with Mickey Callaway and Dave Eiland, it’s possible Gray pitches much better than he has the past two seasons. Overall, if you have a pitcher with Gray’s talent available, and you have the pitching brain trust the Mets have, you look to add these types of players.
Why the Mets Shouldn’t Obtain Him
While we can look for evidence as to why Gray could be better, at 29, Gray is arguably what he is. If so, there are any number of pitchers on the free agent market who can put up similar production to what he is going to put up for the salary he could get in arbitration. Also, while Callaway and Eiland have been able to get through to pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler, they were not able to get through to Matt Harvey, who pitched much better after landing in Cincinnati.
Overall, it may not be wise to part with assets to obtain a reclamation project MLB Trade Rumors projects will be making $9.1 million next season.
This all might be a moot point because the last trade of significance between the Mets and Yankees was the 2002 trade of Robin Ventura for David Justice, and there were rumors which suggested the Mets turned down a better package from the Yankees than what the Indians ultimately offered for Jay Bruce.
In the event it isn’t, the Mets should pursue Gray. With the Mets not being in the market for a Manny Machado this offseason, the team needs to pursue other avenues to improve their club. That could and should include upgrading their rotation. Gray not only does that, but he does provide some upside.
By no means should Gray cost a significant prospect or player from the Mets. If that is truly the case, not matter how unlikely a deal between these two teams might be, the Mets should pursue Gray this offseason.