Sonny Gray. I wanted to start this column off with the two words that will make any Yankee fan angry just upon hearing them. If for no other reason than that’s the type of mood I’m in after watching Gray destroy another Yankees game before the second inning is over. There’s no way to rationally defend Sonny Gray’s performance as of late. He’s allowed 21 runs in his last 21 innings. He’s gotten the Yankees just 13 outs in his last two starts. It hasn’t been pretty. The big question is what do the Yankees do with him?
In the immediate future he will make his next start in Baltimore. Aaron Boone was asked if he would remove Gray from the rotation after Friday’s game and he said it was something that the team wouldn’t be doing before the All-Star Break. If you read into that it means Sonny’s on a short leash and his time taking the ball every five days could be drawing to its end if he doesn’t right the ship and fast.
It might be a Saturday in July but let’s go to school for a moment. The Yankees are not just flat out releasing Sonny Gray. That would a really bad decision on a number of levels. You can get something for Sonny Gray. Something that might even be of use to your ballclub. I’m not saying you can turn him into Jacob deGrom but some team will take a flyer on Gray and be willing to give up something decent to do so. Sonny Gray’s problem isn’t his stuff. He hits 95MPH and has a really good curveball. You hear Aaron Boone talk about his stuff all the time. This isn’t a guy that throws junk. Sonny’s problems appear to be what’s in his head, chest and stomach. It could be the lights in New York are too bright for him and he might really flourish as say a Brewer or Diamondback.
Sonny Gray isn’t a free agent until 2020. Teams just don’t release pitchers making about $6M/year when they’re under 30 and have 2+ years of control left and have the type of stuff Gray has. I understand that he has a 5.85 ERA but think about these facts from Brian Cashman’s point of view. Not to mention if you outright release him he could wind up anywhere. Would you really want to risk Sonny Gray figuring it all out in Boston and shutting the Yankees down in that final series of the season to keep them from winning the American League East?
Speaking of Brian Cashman, it’s unfair to criticize him for this deal. It doesn’t look like a win for him but it might not be a loss either. He knew what he was doing when he traded for Gray. He gave up Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian and Dustin Fowler. Mateo was blocked in the organization by Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres. The team fell out of love with him because of his attitude that even got him suspended at one point. Mateo is currently hitting .229 in Oakland’s minor league system. James Kaprielian was thought to have the potential to be at least a number two starter for the Yankees but he wound up having Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched since 2016. Dustin Fowler was actually ahead of Clint Frazier on the depth chart last year but a gruesome knee injury ended his season and he was sent to Oakland. It was a question mark on how Fowler would recover from the injury and while he’s made it to Big Leagues he’s not exactly lighting the world on fire hitting .250 with 5 home runs and 17 RBI. As you can see, it’s not like Cashman gave up Severino, Judge and Sanchez in this deal. This may turn out to be a wash for both teams.
I also can’t see a demotion to the bullpen or to AAA Scranton as a realistic option because what good would that serve Gray or the ballclub? He’d be a dead roster spot in the bullpen and if you feel Gray is emotionally fragile; going to AAA could be the point of no return for Gray. Sure, he could “work on stuff” down there but is that really going to translate to Big League success for him? I’d say no.
It seems as if the Yankees are biding their time and hoping one of two things happen, Sonny Gray figures out how to be a consistently good pitcher for them or they make a trade to replace him in the rotation. My bet is on the latter. If the team truly feels Justus Sheffield is not ready for MLB hitters right now you just have to sit and wait until Cashman brings in reinforcements via trades. Until then it’s Sonny Gray every five days. You can pray for rain or just hope that by some small miracle of the Baseball Gods, he realizes he’s a New York Yankee in a pennant race. If not he could be a Cincinnati Red pitching in front of 7,000 people every night.