The Yankees have informed right-hander Sonny Gray that he’ll be moved from the rotation to the bullpen, tweets Meredith Marakovits of the YES Network. Gray has taken the demotion in stride, it seems. “I’ve struggled and they’ve given me ample opportunity to figure it out,” the righty said (via Marakovits on Twitter). “I continued to grind … I’m going to go to the pen and continue to try to figure it out.”
It’s a disappointing outcome not only for Gray himself but for a Yankees organization that parted with three promising young players to acquire the right-hander from Oakland in July 2017. The Yankees sent outfielder Dustin Fowler, shortstop Jorge Mateo and right-hander James Kaprielian to the A’s in order to acquire the final two and a half seasons of club control over Gray.
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The 28-year-old Gray pitched fairly well for the Yankees last season, logging a 3.72 ERA with 8.1 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 47.3 percent ground-ball rate in 65 1/3 innings for New York during regular season play. He was hit hard in an ALDS start against the Indians but gave the Yankees a strong five-inning outing against the Astros in the ALCS (one earned run on one hit and a pair of walks with four strikeouts).
The 2018 season, though, has been an unmitigated disaster for Gray. Through 21 starts and 103 2/3 innings, he’s limped to a 5.56 ERA. While he’s still averaging 8.6 K/9 and has cut back on the home runs (1.13 HR/9), Gray’s walk rate is elevated substantially (3.1 BB/9 in 2017, 4.0 in 2018). Last year’s 28 percent hard-contact rate is a distant memory for Gray, as that number has jumped to 36.2 percent in 2018.
There was some speculation that the Yankees could look to trade Gray prior to the non-waiver deadline. Because most of the damage against him has come at Yankee Stadium (7.71 ERA, 10 homers allowed at home; 3.62 ERA, three homers allowed on the road), many viewed him as a potential change of scenery candidate. That said, there’s some reason to believe that a move to the ’pen could prove quite beneficial for Gray as well. Opponents have batted .250/.319/.424 when facing him for the first time in a game; those numbers soar to .319/.393/.478 the second time through the order.
While the move to the ’pen could serve as a temporary solution for the Yankees, it’s still fair to wonder about Gray’s long-term future in the organization. He’s earning $6.5MM in 2018 and is controlled through the 2020 season, though even with his ugly results this year, he’d still be in line for a modest raise through the arbitration process. While the Yankees can certainly afford to pay him $7MM+, it’s possible that his struggles in the Bronx could make him a trade candidate or even a non-tender candidate in the offseason if he’s unable to right the ship and put together a strong finish to the season.
For now, Gray will work out of the ’pen while the Yankees rely on Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and new acquisitions Lance Lynn (picked up in a trade with the Twins) and J.A. Happ (once Happ returns from the disabled list due to a bizarre bout of hand, foot and mouth disease).