6:25pm: Houston may actually be setting its sights elsewhere at the moment, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (Twitter links). Indeed, he says it’s not even clear if the sides are engaged presently in “serious talks.”
He adds that the Athletics have “named their price” on Gray with the Yankees. While there’s no indication that those two clubs are near to a deal, that certainly suggests it’s still an open situation.
10:28am: Trade talks between the Astros and Athletics pertaining to Sonny Gray are “heating up,” according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (Twitter links). Morosi adds that while Houston is in talks with the A’s, the Astros are also maintaining interest in trying to work out a deal that would net both Justin Verlander and Justin Wilson from the Tigers.
Rumors connecting the Astros to Gray date back to the offseason and have been persistent throughout the regular season. The Astros’ roster lacks a clear need, though most reports indicate that if they’re to make a splash, it’d be for someone that could step into the postseason rotation. Gray certainly fits that bill, as he’s rebounded from a triceps injury in 2016 and a lat strain earlier this season to look more and more like his old self in recent months.
Over the past two months, Gray has made 11 starts and totaled 68 1/3 innings with 9.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 54.9 percent ground-ball rate. The resulting 3.56 ERA is solid but appears unspectacular, however the Athletics have also backed Gray with one of baseball’s worst defenses. Fielding-independent metrics like FIP (2.87) and xFIP (3.12) are much more bullish. It’s also worth noting that Gray’s past month has been especially impressive, as he’s posted a 1.62 ERA in his past 33 1/3 innings across five starts.
If talks with the Athletics do come to a head, the Astros will be getting a boost not only for their 2017 postseason chances but also through the 2019 season. Gray is earning just $3.575MM in 2017 — a slight silver lining resulting from last year’s injury troubles — and will be eligible for arbitration twice more before hitting the open market in the 2019-20 offseason. He’d slot into the Houston rotation behind 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and righty Lance McCullers, who are controlled through 2018 and 2021, respectively.
The talks for Verlander and Wilson are another story entirely, as the hurdles involved with a potential Verlander trade have been well documented by this point. The 34-year-old Verlander is having a down season with more than $65MM owed to him through the 2019 season, and he also has a full no-trade clause that would allow him to veto any deal. The Tigers wouldn’t be able to both shed Verlander’s salary and command a significant prospect return for him, and given his status as an icon in Detroit, it’d be a tough sell to the fans to simply move him to shed his contract.
Adding Wilson to the talks would obviously sweeten the pot and could allow the Detroit front office to extract a more lucrative return, though they could potentially do better simply by trading Wilson in a standalone deal. Interest in the dominant setup-man-turned-closer has been extremely strong this month, and he stands out as Detroit’s best trade chip. Unlike J.D. Martinez, an excellent player that nonetheless commanded a lukewarm return due to a lack of a market for his services, more than a third of the league could conceivably have legitimately strong interest in Wilson.