Yankees Best Bet: Go with the upside and get “Mystery Man”

Sonny Gray (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Sonny Gray (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

If indeed, the Yankees are in the market to land a true number one to their starting staff, the pitcher with the most upside is on display tonight in Oakland.

The Yankees went through the entire first half of the season without a real “Number One” starter. They survived and would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today, but did not thrive.

The team can hope beyond hope that Masahiro Tanaka can find what he lost, but common sense says the team can’t afford to bank on that happening. The Yankees need an insurance policy taken out to compensate for the inconsistency of their staff, and the inability of anyone to step up as the “stopper” when things begin to go South.

Jose Quintana, long rumored to be a target of the Yankees, came off the books yesterday when the Cubs traded four prospects, two of which are labeled as Top Prospects, to the White Sox in exchange for the left hander.

Gerrit Cole, the Pittsburgh Pirates number one, has also attracted a lot of attention. But according to Michael Beller, writing for Sports Illustrated, let the buyer beware.

"The disappointment is growing this year. Cole is on pace for the worst season of his career; through 12 starts, he has a 4.83 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 1.34 WHIP and 66 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings. Now in his fifth season at 26 years old, Cole seems at a crossroads. He’s still young enough to find another level and establish himself as a true ace"

And until the Tampa Bay Rays jumped into the Wild Card race, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb were in the conversation mix as potential targets teams were interested in adding before the deadline.

Go with the upside

But the pitcher with the biggest upside is Sonny Gray, Oakland’s number one. Gray throws sliders that look like curve balls and fast balls that look like sliders. He confounds batters with stuff he can’t even describe.

Writing for Fangraphs, Eno Sarris characterizes Gray as a “mystery,” explaining:

"He’s changing things from pitch to pitch, according to what he sees. That includes grips, finger pressure and pitching mix. It’s hard to say he’s been doing something different when he’s always doing something different."

When Sarris gets it from Gray himself, the mystery deepens. It gets even weirder, according to Sarris, who claims that Gray is regularly throwing a cut fastball that’s being classified as a four-seamer. Not according to Gray though:

"“It’s a four-seam fastball that I can manipulate, get around it a little bit more,” Gray said of the pitch. “I do it on purpose. It’s grip… I’ll grip a four-seam and if I want to make it cut a little more I’ll change the grip a little. I just offset the four-seam to cut a little more. Some of it is finger pressure. I’ll pull down a little more.”"

Okay, if you say so, Sonny. But that’s the point here. Gray is a thinking man’s pitcher, but he doesn’t think too much. He’ll try something in game situations that simply “feels right” at the moment, often making his starts his bullpens.

Risk and Rewards

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The big question about Gray, though, is can he stay healthy enough to help the Yankees. As the Sporting News reported earlier this year, Gray went 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA in 22 starts last season, serving stints on the DL with a strained trapezius muscle and a forearm strain. He made just one appearance after Aug. 6 — a Sept. 28 start against the Angels that lasted one 18-pitch inning.

And in March of this year, Gray suffered a strained lat forcing him to begin the season on the DL again. A’s manager, Bob Melvin, reacted to the news telling the Sporting News:

"“This is very disappointing for him,” Melvin said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “He came to came ready to go, feeling good and in a nice place. This is another setback. He’s going to have to deal with it, as are we.”"

For the Yankees, Gray would represent a gamble with high risk, but with the potential for even higher rewards. Gray is fearless, and there is no question that he has the makeup to pitch in New York.

Also on the plus side, it’s not likely that Billy Beane and the A’s are looking for an arm and a leg for Gray, as was the case during the talks with the White Sox about Quintana. Yankees prospects will be in the discussion, but the A’s, while they are stuck in Oakland and blocked for a move to San Jose, are (literally) not going anywhere.

The Yankees are gamblers anyway……..

To put it another way, what is the difference between the gamble on the stable of prospects the Yankees have and a bet on Sonny Gray. There is none. Prospects by definition are just that – prospects.

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And the odds are overwhelmingly against the majority of the teams Top Prospects every donning the Pinstripes. Go with the upside. Bring Sonny Gray to New York and the Yankees.