As the Cubs young players continue to improve so has their overall record and the possibility of them playing in the post-season. The front office has made it no secret that they are looking for pitching to ensure them a place in the playoffs, but the kind that has multiple years of control. That control makes it easier for the club to justify giving up the wealth of young talent in their system and reports have suggested that Sonny Gray of the Oakland Athletics could be one of their top targets. With Gray currently leading the AL in ERA and not a free agent until 2020, the A’s general manager Billy Beane would be more than justified in asking for a king’s ransom for his pitcher, let’s take a look at what it may take to pry him away.
There’s no doubt that Sonny Gray is one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball today and since he was brought up in the middle of 2013, Gray has done nothing but excel. In his career he has a 27-16 record, 340 strikeouts in 384.2 innings with a 2.71 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Gray currently sports a 1.95 ERA, tops in the American League and fourth in the majors. Gray dominates hitters by using a big breaking curve as an out pitch. He has a fastball that averages in the low-90s, but can dial it up to 97 mph if needed. He also mixes in a change-up and slider from time to time to switch it up on hitters, but mostly relies on the curve and fastball to induce strikeouts and ground balls. If the Cubs manage to acquire Gray at the deadline, they’d gain roughly four years of control and he would be a great addition to a rotation of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, who are currently under team control altogether until at least 2018. Trading for an up and coming young pitcher like Gray with that much control left is rare, so let’s see what kind of prospects it would take to get a deal done.
The first trade that comes to mind involves a trade the Cincinnati Reds made during the offseason leading into the 2012 season for Mat Latos.
The Reds gained four years of control of him in an effort to improve their pitching staff to go with their core of young hitters like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs. In return, the San Diego Padres obtained 1B Yonder Alonso, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Brad Boxberger and RHP Edinson Volquez.
Alonso was considered a top five prospect for the Reds at the time as a power hitting first baseman who had good on base skills and could hit for average. Grandal, also a top five prospect, was a catcher with similar offensive skills to Alonso, but was not as strong as hitting for average with the bat. He was considered a decent defender behind the dish, with good receiving skills, a strong arm, but a very slow release. Boxberger was a top 15 prospect and had the potential to be a future high-leverage middle reliever. His fastball topped out at 95 mph, but had better movement when kept at the low-90s. His secondary pitches needed some work as did his effectiveness against lefties which were noticeably better against him than righties. Volquez was likely added in this deal to take the place of Latos in the Padres rotation, but had some upside due his ability to be dominant with two pitches that hovered in the mid-90s. His command was all over the map in his time with the Reds, so a change of scenery made sense for Volquez.
The second trade to consider is one the Cleveland Indians made to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez for two and a half seasons from the Colorado Rockies. Obviously, the length of time is shorter, but the prior three seasons Jimenez was one of the top starters in the game. He was struggling through a rough year at the time of the swap, but the Indians still paid big for his services. They sent over RHP Joe Gardner, RHP Alex White, LHP Drew Pomeranz and 1B/OF Matt McBride.
White was a top three prospect and former first round pick projected to be at worst a middle of rotation starter or closer. He induced a lot of ground balls and featured a lot of movement on his pitches which suggested to scouts that he could become much more than his floor. Pomeranz was a top five prospect, but was the fifth overall pick by the Indians in 2010 and had to be included in the deal as a player to be named later. The big left-hander had a fastball that reached 95 mph and a knee buckling curve. Scouts thought he had the ceiling to be a No. 2 pitcher and be one of the more imposing power lefty starters. Gardner was a top 10 prospect and thought to be a pitcher like White who induced ground balls and could eat innings, but with less projection and command than White. McBride was not among the Indians top 30 prospects, but showed versatility as a right-handed power bat off the bench with the ability to play first base and the outfield corners.
The last trade we will look out was one that was made this offseason and sent LHP Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox for INF Raymel Flores, RHP Rubby De La Rosa and RHP Allen Webster.
Miley was a solid left-handed innings eater that could stabilize a rotation and had been much better away from the thin air in Arizona, so Boston likely saw some upside. Webster was a top 10 prospect, but rated as high as top five by some scouts. The high ranking came from what scouts say is top of the rotation stuff with a fastball that sits in the 93-98 mph range with lots of movement and an impressive change. However, Webster struggles greatly with the command on that fastball which could push him into a relief role. Flores was not a ranked prospect in Boston’s system, but has hit for average and showed a good glove in the middle infield. De La Rosa spent enough time in the majors to be not be considered a prospect anymore, but like Webster has top flight stuff, but weak command and there were some questions he had the stamina to be a starter long term.
As you can see in all of these trades, if you’re going to acquire top flight talent, you have to give it up. In the instances of Latos and Jimenez, two top five prospects were a minimum to get them. Even Miley who is a step below Gray’s level still nabbed a top 10 prospect and another pitcher with similar abilities and worth.
Obviously, the front office is going to be very protective of the pitching prospects they have as they don’t have a ton of depth in that area, so if they even think Gray to be an option, they likely would have to give up bats like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Billy McKinney or Gleyber Torres. If the Cubs relented on a pitching prospect or two Carl Edwards Jr. or Pierce Johnson might be involved.
As we’ve seen with all our looks at trading for starting pitching, you have to pay to play and if the Cubs were getting a pitcher like Sonny Gray, any of these prospects would be more than worth it.
Player Acquisition Cost Reports:
- RHP Tyler Clippard
- INF/OF Ben Zobrist
- RHP Jonathan Papelbon
- LHP Cole Hamels
- LHP Oliver Perez
- LHP Scott Kazmir
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