Right-hander Sonny Gray is coming off the worst season of his career, and while that has his stock at a low point, Gray nonetheless tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that he is open to a long-term deal and has made that known to the Athletics on multiple occasions.
“The way this year went, you never know what would come out of that,” said Gray to Slusser. “On my side, obviously, I’d love for it to be brought up or whatnot. But that’s never been the case. And if it’s not here sometime, I don’t know that it’s worth doing.” Of course, while Gray’s negotiating power is at an all-time low at the moment — a potentially favorable time for the A’s to secure him — there’s also the possibility that the trapezius strain and forearm strain which have plagued him in 2016 will have lingering and/or compounding effects that lead to continued ineffectiveness.
An All-Star and a Cy Young candidate in 2015, Gray struggled through a dismal 2016 campaign, twice landing on the disabled list and recording a 5.74 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 54.3 percent ground-ball rate. The strikeout and walk rates were the worst of the 26-year-old’s career (albeit just barely in the case of the strikeout rate), and Gray showed a marked increase in hard-hit balls and home runs against him. Gray yielded just 36 home runs through 491 frames in his first three big league seasons — an average of 0.66 homers per nine innings. This season, though, he allowed 50 percent of his previous career total (18) in just 116 innings of work — an average of 1.4 homers per nine.
Gray’s home run spike occurred without a dramatic increase in his number of fly-balls allowed (indeed, his ground-ball rate was actually the second-best of his career), meaning he simply had an inordinately high number of his fly-balls leave the yard. While homer-to-flyball rate tends to fluctuate on a year-to-year basis, thus creating some hope that there’s an element of randomness to this season’s struggles, a look at Gray’s heatmaps from 2016 and 2015 (via Fangraphs) illustrates that he left a considerably larger number of fastballs out over the plate for opposing hitters this season. That slip in location — also evident in his elevated walk rate — wasn’t the sole cause of all of the homers he yielded but did lead to much better success against his fastball (.861 opponent OPS in 2016 compared to .753 in 2015). All of that could potentially be due to his injuries, but if there’s another factor at play (or if the A’s have trepidation his ability to return at full strength in 2017), the prospect of a long-term deal becomes considerably riskier.
This offseason will mark Gray’s first trip through arbitration, and he can be controlled through the 2019 season via that process. As it stands, the Bo McKinnis client projects to hit the open market as he prepares to enter his age-30 season — an age at which many pitchers still fetch lucrative free-agent deals ranging between four and seven years of length. Signing a long-term pact with the A’s that buys out free agent years would mean forgoing that opportunity, though he’d be doing so in exchange for immediate financial security.
From the Athletics’ vantage point, Slusser notes, there’s simply the matter of whether they could afford to lock Gray or any of their other key contributors up at all. (Slusser lists Stephen Vogt, Khris Davis and Marcus Semien as other potential candidates, though none of the bunch specifically discussed a willingness to sign in the manner that Gray did, hence the focus on him in this writing.) The A’s can ill afford to miss on long-term contracts, as their prospects for either securing a new stadium or moving to another city which affords the same opportunity aren’t encouraging at the moment. And, the upcoming wave of collective bargaining negotiations could impact league-wide revenue sharing, which could potentially bring a significant blow to the Athletics’ payroll capacity as well.
The A’s have already whiffed on one large contract, as Billy Butler’s three-year, $30MM deal has looked regrettable from the get-go. Interestingly, Slusser writes that “[t]here is no chance” that Butler will be back in 2017, though the A’s aren’t likely to receive much in the way of salary relief even if they find a trade partner, as Butler has batted just .258/.325/.394 in his two seasons wearing green and gold.
While payroll capacity will certainly be a factor in any potential extension talks with Gray, so too will the fact that there aren’t many comparables in recent years. Typically, starting pitchers that ink extensions do so earlier in their careers. Via MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, Lance Lynn and Wade Miley are the only two starters Gray’s service class that have signed contracts of three or more years in the past five years. Both pitchers signed away only three guaranteed years (their three arbitration years), though Miley’s deal does contain a club option for a fourth. Miley’s deal affords him a guaranteed $19.25MM, whereas Lynn’s three arbitration years went for $22MM. Either of those deals could serve as a theoretical blueprint for the arbitration years in an extension, but the difficulty the A’s will likely face would be finding an agreeable price for any free-agent years that an extension would cover. While Oakland would rightly bring up Gray’s lackluster performance and injuries in the 2016 season, his camp would almost certainly be looking more at Gray’s 2013-15 excellence when trying to establish a price point. Finding a balance between those two vantage points doesn’t figure to be an easy task.
As Slusser points out, though, had Gray pitched a full, healthy season for the Athletics, they may never have even had the opportunity to extend him at all. Another sub-3.00 ERA would have Gray on track for a substantial first-time arbitration salary and on a clear course for a $100MM+ contract in free agency. That’s less certain now, and that bit of unknown could work in the Athletics’ favor. That’s not lost on GM David Forst, who tells Slusser: “You never want to take advantage of a player, but in the course of business negotiations, if you take a look at a player who isn’t at his peak, that is potentially better for the club.”
Just Another Fan
Yeah, that’s not how the A’s work. Especially with a pitcher.
Oakland does not very often get a chance to sign a franchise piece to a long term contract and this might just be a time, if Gray is willing here. Butler was different, that was an outright bad gamble from the start. If Beane can get Gray to sign something along the lines of, say 7y and 75-90m? Would think more than make Oakland happy for keeping Oakland fans happy.
Just Another Fan
“Would think more than make Oakland happy for keeping Oakland fans happy.”
Yeah, that’s not how the A’s work. They simply do not care about keeping certain players to make the fans happy, they only care about making the 1-25 as strong as can be and winning.
The A’s do not sign home grown pitchers, never have never will. The only way they’d sign Gray would be to an ultra-team friendly deal so his trade value would be higher if and when he pitches well again, and then they’d trade him.
Of course Gray is interested in a long term deal given his doubt that he’s already produced the best results he can give..
Who knows if Tommy John or any other career detour awaits so of course he’s willing to sign long term!
Is Beane that dumb to sign a guy coming off a disappointing season to a long term high money deal just to appease Oakland fans?
But that’s the ridiculous way pro sports works these days!
All A’s fans are hoping this happens but let’s not forget not to many pitchers have more than a 5 year window as a Ace. The A’s have no long term contracts other than Doolittle option years.
Pretty sure every homegrown guy says something along these lines, and then they run to the Yankees, Dodgers, etc. who will pay them way more money than they’d ever need. But can you blame them? Gray just doesn’t want to seem like the bad guy when he signs with the Rangers for 7/200
I think the A’s don’t work that way just because most players want more than what they can give. If Gray is willing to lower his price I’m sure the A’s will keep him.
Just Another Fan
They never kept the Big 3, Gio, etc etc etc – they kept Eric Chavez of all people and he burned them by never actually playing for 5 years. I’d think they’d be more open to buying out FA years of Cotton, Holmes, Barreto and Chapman.
I think you are underestimating how good Chavez was. He wasn’t just a random guy that they kept. He was among the best 25 players in baseball from 2000-2005. Neither the A’s nor Chavez had any idea the injuries that were to follow.. He didn’t burn them because that says he had some level of control over the situation. Just Another Uninformed Opinion, I guess.
Just Another Fan
The A’s got burned by the Chavez deal, not by Chavez himself, that’s a fact that has influenced all their signings ever since, no matter how much your superiority complex wants to try and prove me “uninformed”.
There’s also the idea of not paying for decline years.
Once again, missing the overall point to argue minutiae, don’t ever change rayray….
If the A’s are making business decisions based on a deal from 2005 then they would be more awful then the D backs.. If Billy Beane is some genus as you make him out to be all the time, then why would he be thinking about something from 2005? It happens all the time, it sucks but it happens. Every team gets screwed, look at the D backs with Miller, or the Red Sox with Pablo S. Should the Mets never sign a player again because of Bobby B?
Gray is freaking 26 and would be fairly cheap right now.
The only one with one with a superiority complex is you Just Another Fan.
Your comments are just painful to read. Just narcissistic.
One of the best 25? What league are you referring to? Chavez was awful and put up most of his numbers at the end of the year or in chunks when they didn’t need it. Offensively he was incredibly unimportant.
Chavez was not awful. He had five really good seasons. Unimportant? How is 270 30 home runs 100 rbis awful?And he was top 25 in MVP voting 3 times. Won six gold gloves. What a joke of a comment.
This is a really interesting case. Is there any information out there on what Gray would be looking to get in an extension? (I assume there is not)
Pitchers are volatile enough, you gotta wonder if even mild shoulder and forearm injuries would scare oakland off of any long term commitment to him. As the writer mentions, they really can’t afford to extend him and have him suffer injuries.
Sasha C. Handelman
Sadly it wouldn’t surprise me to see Gray traded to a contender (Boston,LAD..) Beane is famous for trading players at their peak to get better future players. Donaldson, Addison Russell. He got a great package for Hill/Reddick. So if Gray does sign long term great but I wouldn’t count on it
Donaldson wasn’t traded at his peak
Except the A’s missed out on trading gray at his peak.
Addisson Russell was at his peak when they traded him? He also didn’t trade him for future players, he included him in a package for 1.5 years of Shark and .5 years of jason hammel.
At this time I couldn’t see anyone trading a high value package for Sonny Gray. How can one tell if his troubles this year aren’t signs pointing toward Tommy John? He is a power pitcher with a high spin rate breaking pitch, but lacks the physical size of a prototypical power guy. I would be hesitant to sign him to a long term contract at this moment; too many unanswered questions.
Just Another Fan
He’s not a power pitcher though, his K rate doesn’t agree with that and his FB tops out at 94 MPH. I’ve long said a pitchers size has nothing to do with anything at all other than to dumb old school scouts who are wrong often. Everything else you said might be true though. His other injuries might have happened due to him trying to hide a potential TJ injury, and throwing 5 different pitches takes a very high baseball IQ to execute.
A’s would be nuts not to sign him if they got him for cheap. He’s got huge potential outside and we all know that the A’s would just trade him when he’s at his peak.
If I were any player signing a long term deal with the A’s because I WANTED to be there, I’d demand a no trade clause (which they would never give). A’s are continually in a game of moving chess pieces around. They are kinda like that guy who is dating a different girl every week because he’s afraid of commitment! hehehe
I have a difficult seeing Gray accepting anything under 6 years and $150MM. If he were to accept something in the neighborhood of 6 at $70-$90MM then I would question the confidence he has in his own health.
That extension makes no sense for any player that still has his arbitration years remaining. You’re valuing all six of those years like they’re free-agent seasons, when the very nature of arbitration means he’ll be making only fractions of his open-market value over the next three seasons.
If you use Lance Lynn as a comp — and their ERAs, innings totals and K/BB numbers are all similar through their first three seasons — Gray’s arbitration years would be worth $22MM. That might be aggressive, even, given his poor 2016 and lack of wins (which factor into arbitration prices).
But, for the sake of this comp, we’ll say his arb years are roughly equal to those of Lynn. That means at 6/150 the three free-agent seasons included would be valued at $42.8MM per year.
That’s not how extensions work. The $70-90MM over six years you referenced isn’t actually insane. That would peg his three free-agent years at $16-22MM per season. I’m sure his agents would deem the lower end of that spectrum too weak, and they’d probably try to top $100MM one way or another (be it via a fourth year or increasing the AAV), but $150MM over six years is never happening for a guy who is only first-time arb eligible.
Hey Steve. Have you ever seen any projections that looks at salary trends per position player over the years and then predicts what say a Tier 1 FA pitcher is likely going to command 5 years from now? Like let’s take Grienke is on $31 mil a year. 5 years from now. Would a pitcher of his caliber be worth $40 mil? So given a decline in skills $31 million a year might be what a tier 2 pitcher is worth.
Forget the numbers they are just examples. But wondering if that kind of thinking is factored in?
Do teams do stuff like that and take into account that even though they are paying them big money, 5 years from now 31 million might not be a huge amount of money??
This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison by any means, but the Trout and Freeman extensions are two that come to mind where the player essentially got going-rate premium free agent salaries for their future FA seasons that were covered in the deal. That makes sense; after all, when a player actually reaches the open market, they aren’t able to command greater down-the-line rates based upon expected salary growth (which is all but impossible to predict, anyway). That’s all essentially baked into the calculus already.
Has any player ever said, not I’m not interested in a long term deal with my current team?
Yes, you’re right sals029, especially coming off a year where results were sorely under performing..
Yep, 38-31 career, certainly looks like a 7 year, 100 million plus guy to me.
Wonder who the A’s will try to pawn him off to 3-4 years down with road when his size and results, plus his stuff doesn’t play to his pay!
Three years in the league and we’re already putting this guy in the Hall of Fame. Pathetic.
When his size doesn’t play to his pay? Is Sonny Gray shrinking?
The A’s should avoid extending Gray at all costs.
Ace of Spades
For some reason, grays size and pitches remind me of lincecum. A short shelf life perhaps?
Just come to the Red Sox