By HAL McCOY
The Cincinnati Reds fit another piece into the pitching reconstruction they are doing this off-season.
Sonny Gray became the third new member of the team’s 2019 rotation when the Reds acquired him from the New York Yankees that cost them minor league second baseman Shed Long and a competitive balance draft pick.
Gray joins Tanner Roark and Alex Wood as the new inhabitant of a rotation that was the worst in the National League last season.
Is Dallas Keuchel next? Or Corey Kluber? Or are the Reds finished reconfiguring the rotation?
Keuchel is the top free agent starting pitcher remaining on the market and the Reds have been in pursuit all winter. The Cleveland Indians are said to be willing to deal Kluber, if the price is right. A report last week out of San Diego said the Reds, Indians and Padres discussed a deal that would send Kluber to the Reds and Cincinnati’s top prospect, Nick Senzel, to the Padres.
The report said the hangup was San Diego’s concern over Senzel’s medical status. The concern wasn’t pin-pointed, but it most likely has to do with Senzel’s vertigo history.
Dick Williams, President of Baseball Operations, made it sound a bit as if the Reds are finished pursuing rotation residents.
“Conceptually, we always wanted to add three starters, if we could do so economically,” he said. “That would improve our overall depth. We never broadcast any exact number publicly, but once we got two guys in the boat (Roark, Wood), we were still very active in the trade and free agent market.
“Once we acquired the two guys with one-year deals, we said we would only trade for Sonny is we were able to extend him,” Williams added. “We didn’t want to be a position where all three starters would be coming in free agency next year.”
If the Reds don’t acquire Keuchel or Kluber or any other starter, the 2019 rotation would look like this: Luis Castillo, Alex Wood, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, Anthony DeSclafani/Tyler Mahle/Somebody Else.
In addition to Gray, the Reds acquired left handed minor league pitcher Reiver Sanmartin. And as soon as the Yankees acquired Shed Long, they shipped him to Seattle for minor league outfielder Josh Stowers.
Before the Reds made the deal with the Yankees, they had to make certain Gray would accept a contract extension, wiping out his free agency eligibility after the 2019 season. He agreed to a three-year $30.5 million deal and is re-uniting with Derek Johnson, the Reds new pitching coach and Gray’s college coach at Vanderbilt University.
Gray joins the Reds with a one-year $7.5 million deal he signed with the Yankees. The Reds added three years to the deal with a club option for a fourth year at $12 million.
Late last week Gray appeared at a dinner in Nashville, Tenn. and told The Tennessean newspaper, “Ultimately you want to play somewhere where you are wanted. If it just so happens for me to go back to New York, then I’m going to continue to do everything I can to win games, not only for the team, but to better myself as pitcher and go that route and try to preform at a high level.”
He isn’t going back to New York, unless it is for him to face the Mets in a Red uniform, and the Reds certainly hope he performs at a higher level than he did with the Yankees.
At the dinner, Gray also said, “I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone, (the New York experience) has been an up-and-down experience for me. I’ve loved my time there. I love the guys. It was obviously a difficult season the past year, starting and then going to the bullpen, not pitching as much. But, I mean, I did win 11 games last year.”
Gray arrived in New York for the 2017 season after four successful seasons with the Oakland A’s. Last season he was 11-9 with a 4.90 earned run average in 30 games, 9-9 in 23 starts with a 5.26 ERA.
He began the season in the rotation but was dropped into the bullpen in early August. The opponents had a .327 batting average on balls they put in play, eighth highest in the American League.
What the Reds like, of course, is that Gray’s 50 per cent ground ball rate was the lowest of his career, something that definitely works in his favor in the tight and cramped quarters of Great American Small Park.
But FanGraphs clocked him at career highs in line drives given up percentage (22.9) and hard contact percentage (35.5).
Gray’s lifetime ERA is a glossy .366 and he was 3.17 on the road last season. His troubles surfaced in Yankee Stadium, where his ERA was 6.98. With the Reds he won’t have to tread on the mound in The Bronx.
Pitching coach Derek Johnson is enthralled, of course, over the re-union.
“He is a guy right in the middle of his prime and also a hungry guy,” said Johnson. “That’s the thing that we are all counting on. I know what kind of competitor Sonny is and I know that last year didn’t sit well with him at all.
“I know he is going to be out to prove something, not only to other people, but to himself as well,” Johnson added. “When you have type of player on your hands, some really good things can happen.”