The New York Yankees got their man Monday. The long-talked about trade with the Oakland Athletics, the one that gives the Yankees a young, potentially great and team-controlled starting pitcher in Sonny Gray, was officially agreed upon.
The Yankees are giving up three good young players in Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo and James Kaprielian. That’s an impressive haul for the Athletics, but it’s an even better move for the Yankees. It helps them immediately, as they jostle with the rival Boston Red Sox for AL East supremacy this season, and in the future, as they set their sights another dynasty.
To be perfectly blunt: Nobody really expected the Yankees to be trade-deadline buyers at the start of this season. The Yankees’ future is bright, as we all know, but Aaron Judge came in and shook up their present. The first-place Baby Bombers have been better than imagined, and entering action on trade-deadline day at 56-47, they owned a half-game lead in the division over the Red Sox. So when they saw the opportunity to get Sonny Gray, they didn’t flinch.
The Yankees aren’t in a position to fully mortgage the future to go for it right now, which is why they held close their top youngsters — outfielder Clint Frazier and shortstop Gleyber Torres — but they were willing to part with their No. 4 overall prospect Dustin Fowler, an outfielder who is out for the season. Mateo ranks eighth in the Yankees system according to MLB.com and Kaprielian, also injured for the year, is 12th.
Those aren’t throwaway players, but the fact that the Yankees were able to pry away Gray — at one point, one of the best young pitchers in the game — without giving up Frazier and Torres has to be considered a huge win.
The Yankees rotation is fragile these days. Michael Pineda is already out for the year after an injured elbow required Tommy John surgery. Masahiro Tanaka’s ERA is 5.09. Young pitchers Luis Severino, 23, and Jordan Montgomery, 24, have both shown promise this year, but longtime workhorse CC Sabathia is 37 and in the final year of his contract.
In other words: There’s plenty of Gray area in the Bronx, both in the short-term and long-term. Gray, 27, won’t be a free agent until 2020. He’ll hit arbitration in 2018, but that’s plenty of control for a team that’s been waiting to pounce on the huge 2018 free-agent class.
As Yankees fans dream of a future outfield featuring Frazier and Bryce Harper, or maybe a future infield with Torres and Manny Machado, they’ll be happy to see Gray in pinstripes immediately. He was one of the best pitchers in the league in 2015, finishing third for the AL Cy Young after going 14-7 with a 2.43 ERA. The following season wasn’t kind, as Gray battled injury and his ERA ballooned up to 5.69, much higher than his previous career high of 3.08.
This year, Gray has been more of himself. He has a 3.43 ERA. His 6-5 record isn’t fantastic, but consider that he plays for a last-place team in Oakland. Compared to last season, Gray is giving up 50 percent fewer homers per game. His walks and hits allowed are down. His strikeouts per nine innings are up — higher even than his stellar 2015 season.
It’s not unrealistic to think that Gray can help the Yankees make the playoffs this season and emerge as their ace next season at 28 years old. And if he does — with Judge having full arrived, Frazier and Torres on the way, Montgomery and Severino looking like rotation mainstays, Gary Sanchez getting better and plenty of money to play with in the future — the Yankees could look like bandits.
Even if they don’t win a World Series this year, it doesn’t matter. Getting Sonny Gray on Monday could be a deal that helps produce the next Yankees dynasty.
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