Arguably the least-wanted pitcher in the Big Apple since Kei Igawa finally moved on last week as it was confirmed that Sonny Gray had been acquired by the Cincinnati Reds as part of a 3-team trade also involving, to the surprise of no one, the Seattle Mariners.
Jerry Dipoto simply couldn’t allow the trade to go through without getting involved however and, like a moth to a flame, he was suddenly a part of it, sending 2018 second round pick outfielder Josh Stowers to the Yankees in exchange for Long.
The Yankees rate Stowers very highly, though he appears to be a fair way from being major league-ready as it stands, while the Mariners appear to have picked up a fine 2B prospect in Long, who will be on the 40-man roster and is sure to feature during Spring Training.
However, the main focus of the trade was undoubtedly on the Reds and in particular Gray, whose stay in New York, if you followed the hyperbolic local and national press, featured more horrors than a Halloween episode of the Simpsons.
In 2018, Gray went 11-9 over 30 appearances, including 23 starts, with a 4.90 ERA. He hit 8 batters, more than any other season of his career despite throwing over 88 fewer innings than the most he has managed (2014 with the Athletics, 219.0), and allowed 14 home runs.
Interestingly, the Reds have not only traded for Gray, giving up a prospect and a draft pick in the process, but they have given him a further three-year, $30.5 million extension along with a $12 million club option for 2023, as reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN.
This for a player who was written off by all at the Yankees, who were desperate to trade away him and his $7.5m salary for the coming year. There was no waiting from Cincinnati to see how his form is in the early part of the season; not even a wait for Spring Training. The Reds wanted Gray and have locked him down accordingly for up to 5 years of club control.
This could well be a masterstroke. Gray isn’t far removed from his All-Star campaign of 2015 with the Athletics, and his numbers away from Yankee Stadium while with New York actually don’t look at all bad. He has clear, genuine upside and could well feature as a cornerstone of the Reds’ rotation over the coming years, at a time when they are going to be looking to contend.
Therein lies what could be the reasoning behind the decision to make this move.
The Reds have finished at the root of the NL Central every year since 2015 and have won no more than 68 games across this period.
This offseason, with trades for Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig before this move, the Reds have clearly shown intent to move away from this status quo and have at least attempted to surround a clearly world-class franchise player in Joey Votto with talent in the line-up and solidity in the pitching rotation.
The Reds do not necessarily have the money to go and get Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, and I very much doubt they contend this year in the division of the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals, all of whom won well over 80 games last season and should go well again. However, in the era of the tanking team, where so many teams are asking their fan bases to simply put up with rosters with no chance of even being competitive, it is only fair to tip the cap to the front office of the Reds, who are clearly sick of finishing at the basement and looking to change that and re-generate enthusiasm in the team and the ballpark.
Is it a strategy that will yield a sixth World Series title any time soon? Possibly not. Is it a strategy that will make Cincinnati a fascinating team to watch this coming season? Most definitely.
All eyes will be on Sonny Gray this season but, at a ballclub that clearly rates and wants him, who knows – perhaps we will see the Gray that earned the contract and trade to Yankee Stadium in the first place. If that’s the case, the NL Central, and the 2019 MLB season as a whole, will be better for it.