Oakland’s Sonny Gray has been one of the American League’s most consistent starting pitchers for the past five years.
It is rumor season in Major League Baseball, where gossip is ubiquitous as the trade deadline nears. Google a name one day and he’s going to the Yankees, the next and he’s going to the Red Sox, the next and he’s not going anywhere.
No one’s ever quite sure what to believe, but there was a juicy possibility put out there by mlb.com Monday: Sonny Gray to the Mariners?
Every Seattle eyebrow just raised involuntarily.
Save for last season, when he put up a 5.69 earned-run average, Gray has been one of the American League’s most consistent starting pitchers for the past five years. The A’s’ right-hander has had three seasons with a sub-3.08 ERA, including 2015, when he finished third in the Cy Young voting.
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So regardless of whether the M’s were serious about pursuing Gray when that report come out — they should become serious about it now.
This has been a season of undulation for the Mariners (50-51), with hot streaks offsetting miserable skids as they hover around .500. But as manager Scott Servais mentioned Monday, they’ve never been able to overcome that proverbial hump.
And though a slow start, bullpen woes and frequent offensive siestas are partly to blame for their record, the biggest culprit has been erratic starting pitching.
If Sonny joined James Paxton and Felix Hernandez at the top of the rotation, the Mariners suddenly have a formidable set of arms. It might not be enough to catapult them into the playoffs, but given how they entered Monday just 2½ games out of the final wild-card spot, the addition could be the necessary boost.
More significantly, Seattle would have control over Gray’s contract through the 2019 season, meaning this wouldn’t just be a two-month gamble deemed wasteful should the M’s fall short of the postseason. It would be an investment centered on improving a core that, for the most part, will remain intact next year.
But how costly an investment? That’s the real question.
There is virtually no doubt that, in order to lure Gray from Oakland, the Mariners would have to sacrifice minor-league outfielder Kyle Lewis, the No. 1 prospect in the organization. Mention a scenario like that and thoughts automatically shift to Adam Jones, whom the Mariners traded to Baltimore in 2008 for starting pitcher Erik Bedard.
Bedard was outstanding the year before, going 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and 221 strikeouts. But injuries limited him to 255 innings in his four years in Seattle. Jones, meanwhile, went on to play in five All-Star Games.
The difference between Jones and Lewis, however, is that Jones proved himself by dominating every level of the minor leagues. Lewis, though brimming with potential, has never played higher than Class A.
Of course, it would take more than just Lewis to swing Gray, and the Mariners don’t have many more carrots to dangle. They already dealt Tyler O’Neill (then No. 2 prospect for Seattle) to St. Louis for pitcher Marco Gonzales, not to mention four low-level prospects to Miami for reliever David Phelps.
To acquire a player like Gray would probably mean throwing in someone like a Ben Gamel, the phenomenal rookie whose stock may be at its highest. That would be a tough sell to many fans, but an All-Star starter is an All-Star starter. They’re usually worth the risk.
Having said that, the Mariners would still have to compete with teams such as the Astros and Dodgers, whose farm systems are teeming with potential All-Star talent. The quality of players the richer, deeper organizations can offer might render any Mariners offers moot.
But that’s no reason to give up.
Since he arrived in Seattle two years ago, general manager Jerry Dipoto has maintained that the window is now. He isn’t looking at a five-year plan. He’s not constructing a rebuilding project. He wants to win immediately and has been the most aggressive executive in baseball as a result.
His best shot at ending this playoff drought? Get a great starter. Go get Sonny Gray.
It’s hard to give away young talent, but that would give this team the best chance to win.