Rockies right-hander Jon Gray was an oft-mentioned name at this week’s GM Meetings, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com, with the Padres among the clubs interested in acquiring the former No. 3 overall pick.
That Gray would emerge as a potential trade candidate isn’t really a surprise; as explored here at MLBTR a month ago, the Rockies are in a tough spot as a team that is projected to have a franchise-record payroll in 2020 before making a single addition to improve what was a 71-91 club in 2019. Gray and shortstop Trevor Story are the two members of the club that are relatively short-term assets (both controlled through 2021) and have performed well enough to have legitimate trade value. Owner Dick Monfort began the offseason by declaring a lack of payroll flexibility. As such, if the Rockies are to look to ways to improve, they may need to walk a fine line and move some quality big league pieces to simultaneously pare back spending and add more affordable (but less proven) near-MLB talent.
Gray, who last week turned 28, has demonstrated front-of-the-rotation ability at times in his big league career but has yet to establish much in the way of consistency. He’s averaged better than a strikeout per inning in 641 1/3 MLB frames and has delivered sub-4.00 ERAs in two of the past three seasons despite pitching his home games at Coors Field. However, Gray also logged a mediocre 4.61 ERA in 2016 and a woeful 5.12 mark in 2018.
Inconsistency notwithstanding, Gray is a former No. 3 overall pick and vaunted top prospect who averages better than 96 mph on his heater and owns a career 11.4 percent swinging-strike rate. He’s not exactly the prototypical Statcast darling, as he has below-average spin on his fastball and slider, but he’s managed to consistently generate punchouts all the same. And, that low spin rate has helped Gray to post above-average ground-ball tendencies throughout his MLB tenure.
Gray has only made 30 starts in a big league season once, although his durability isn’t questionable in the same way that it would be for a pitcher with a history of arm troubles. Rather, Gray has twice suffered a fracture in his left foot, limiting him to 110 1/3 innings in 2017 and 150 innings this past season. Outside of those two injuries, the only issue that’s ever shelved Gray during his MLB career was an abdominal strain in 2016. He did have some shoulder fatigue late in the 2014 season — his first full year of pro ball — but Gray’s right arm has an otherwise clean bill of health.
There are at least some parallels between the Rockies’ current situation with Gray and the situation the Pirates faced with Gerrit Cole two offseasons ago. Both are flamethrowing former top picks/prospects. Gray has a 112 ERA+ over his past four seasons — the same mark that Cole posted from 2014-17 in Pittsburgh. And, as was the case with Cole, Gray has another two years of club control remaining and a decidedly non-prohibitive (for most clubs) projected arbitration salary at $5.6MM. (Cole had settled at $6.75MM at the time of his trade.)
That’s not to suggest that Gray will erupt with a new club in the same manner that Cole did, but rather to underscore that Gray is the type of pitcher teams will dream on when scouring the trade market. The fact that this winter’s trade market lacks a clearly available frontline starter should only lead to further intrigue surrounding Gray, although there’s no guarantee that the Rockies will ultimately part ways with the hard-throwing right-hander. The Colorado organization, by all accounts, is hopeful of a bouncing back as a collective unit in 2020, so moving Gray for down-the-pipeline prospect who won’t reach the Majors until 2021-22 doesn’t seem likely.