Well, they did it. The Reds traded for Sonny Gray, a move that had been rumored essentially all offseason. The stars aligned to bring Gray closer to his hometown of Nashville, where he attended Vanderbilt University and pitched under the guide of new Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson. Gray gets a much needed reset, going from the Yankees – the biggest market in baseball, where he was brought in to a very highly demanding win now mode in 2017, back to a small market franchise where he can have a more prominent role. That environment seemed to work well for the former first round draft pick of the A’s back in 2015, where he was an All-Star and a Cy Young finalist for Oakland, sporting a 2.73 ERA and winning 14 games as the bright spot on a weak team.
Initially, I was heavily against this trade. I follow the Yankees somewhat closely, and seeing him go from a potential ace on that team to losing his spot in the rotation and being completely unwanted in the Bronx isn’t the best sign. Gray was frankly awful at Yankee Stadium, posting an ERA of 6.98 there in 2018, while he managed to record an ERA of just 3.17 while away. Yankee Stadium is known as a hitter’s paradise, but when you look a bit more closely at Gray’s statistics, his struggles don’t seem to be park specific. He doesn’t give up an insane amount of home runs and his career groundball rate is an elite 53.3%. While the fact that he may be a bit of a head case and never felt comfortable pitching in his home ball park is still concerning, he’ll get a much-needed chance to start over and the Reds are a perfect fit.
The trade came together when Dick Williams and the Reds were able to negotiate an extension on top of the $7.5 million he is owed this season, locking him through 2022 for a very reasonable $30.5 million (well, reasonable if he returns to form), and a club option for 2023. To get this, the Reds give up Shed Long, a middle infield prospect who has been developing in the Reds system since 2013 and has yet to play above AA. Stuck behind Nick Senzel and Jon India, like Jeter Downs before him, getting rid of Long makes sense from a big picture perspective. The Reds also gave up their comp round pick for 2019, a round they’ve had success with in years past, finding the likes of Michael Lorenzen, #2 prospect Taylor Trammell, and recent trade chips Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs. To add to the return, the Yankees also parted with a lefty pitching prospect Reiver Sanmartin. While not ranked on any prospect lists, the guy has put up some solid numbers in the minors and has elite control. The dude only walked 4 batters across 67 innings last season – an absurd rate at any level. If he turns out to be solid, the Reds made out even better after this trade.
As we stand now, the Reds have added three solid major league starters that all improve the rotation dramatically in 2019, they’ve hired some of the best coaches in all of baseball, magically gotten rid of Homer Bailey, cut the ever-struggling at the plate Billy Hamilton, and replaced him with two All-Star outfielders with World Series experience. No team has been more active in the offseason this year, and no team is trying harder to make it back to the postseason than Dick Williams and the Reds front office. This team still has lots of question marks leading in to Spring Training – but in a good way. In years past, the questions were “How can we scrap together a rotation of big league ready pitchers?” or “Will we be able to find an outfield that can consistently hit?”. Now the questions marks going into spring come from a place of depth, rather than scarcity. There will be a fierce battle for the 5th rotation spot between Anthony DeSclafani, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano and probably others. Top prospect Nick Senzel will get a chance to force his way into the starting lineup and make the Opening Day roster. One of our All-Star outfielders may not even end up being a regular starter.
These are good problems to have, but it does lead me to my one concern with the Reds roster as it is now, as brought up Doug Gray, of RedsMinorLeagues.com. The Reds have had numerous young pitchers make starts for the last few seasons, with some showing glimpses of dominance, even among some massive struggles. These guys still have a ton of talent, and would have benefited greatly from the opportunity to work with a pitching coach like Derek Johnson, but that won’t be a reality for some of them. Guys like Sal Romano and Michael Lorenzen will more than likely find themselves in the major league bullpen if they don’t crack the rotation, but a guy like Tyler Mahle (who I personally see a TON of promise in still) will head down to Louisville where he can stay stretched out and pitch every five days, but won’t get to learn from any of the three veteran starters added to our staff or work with our new pitching coaches. Let’s hope he makes the most of Spring Training. That said, injuries happen, and I am way more comfortable with giving guys like Mahle or Romano spot starts than the Lisalverto Bonilla’s or the John Lamb’s of the baseball world.
This team has depth, this team has excitement, and hey, Dick Williams said he isn’t even done making moves yet. We’ve got a lot of one year players, but with prospects like Nick Senzel and Taylor Tramell chomping at the bit, it might not even matter if we lose some of these guys to free agency next year. Hell, Tucker Barnhart even guaranteed the playoffs for 2019 already, and this team has the makings to win beyond this year as well. Talk about hype! These guys are ready to win.
Initially, we had planned on putting out a Hunt For Reds October podcast talking about this trade and its implications, but the recording seems to have magically vanished, probably hanging out with Joe Nuxhall and Ryan Freel in baseball heaven. Hopefully we’ll have another podcast out in the next week or so anyway, but until then I’ll leave you with the spoken word of another guy who seems to be just as much of a Reds diehard fan as myself – Reds lefty reliever Amir Garrett. Man, oh man I can’t wait for this season.