The Reds are open to trading right-handed starter Sonny Gray this offseason, reports Buster Olney of ESPN (Twitter link). However, Olney hears that Cincinnati isn’t amenable to moving either of Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle.
No deal involving Gray appears to be close, but he’s seemingly the most likely Reds starter to wind up on the move at some point. That’s not especially surprising, since Gray’s also the most expensive of their top trio. Cincinnati has opened the offseason scaling back expenditures, and general manager Nick Krall has spoken about “aligning (the team’s) payroll to its resources.” Early reports suggested a Castillo deal could be part of those efforts, but Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported last week that it was doubtful any deal involving the 28-year-old would come to fruition.
Gray looks like a fairly straightforward trade candidate as he enters the final guaranteed year of his contract. He’s slated to earn around $10.67MM in 2022 and remains under club control for 2023 via $12.5MM club option. (Gray would also receive a $1MM assignment bonus in the event of a trade). That’s a reasonable sum for a pitcher of Gray’s caliber, but it also makes him Cincinnati’s fourth-highest paid player. And the three players set to earn loftier sums (Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas and Eugenio Suárez) wouldn’t be easy to move. Votto’s a franchise icon who has full no-trade protection; Moustakas and Suárez are coming off bad 2021 seasons and wouldn’t figure to hold much appeal to other clubs.
On the other hand, Gray offers a blend of fairly substantial but still team-friendly salary that could make a trade realistic. He’s coming off a season in which he posted a 4.19 ERA/3.85 SIERA across 135 1/3 innings. That’s decent mid-rotation production, and Gray was even better over his first couple seasons in Cincinnati. Despite pitching in one of the league’s more hitter-friendly home environments, the right-hander reeled off 231 1/3 innings of 3.07 ERA ball from 2019-20.
Gray has backed up those solid results with strong underlying numbers. While he typically runs walk rates a bit higher than the league average, he also generates an enviable combination of punchouts and grounders. Gray has posted above-average strikeout and ground-ball percentages in each of the past three seasons. His 27% and 47.2% marks in those categories in 2021 were his lowest since 2018, but even those were both markedly above the respective league averages (22.6% and 42.7%) for starting pitchers.
Installing Gray into the middle of a rotation should have plenty of appeal around the league. The Dodgers were already rumored to have interest in that possibility this offseason, and others would join them if the Reds’ front office began to discuss trade frameworks in earnest.
Both Castillo and Mahle could bring even greater returns, as they’re arguably superior pitchers who are more affordable. Like Gray, both righties are controllable for two more seasons, but they’re proceeding through arbitration. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects Castillo for a $7.6MM salary in 2022; Mahle is projected to bring in around $5.6MM. Both pitchers would stand to earn a final raise in 2023, although it’s unlikely either would match or top the value of Gray’s $12.5MM option that year.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem the Reds are preparing to tear the roster down completely. Coming off an 83-win season with a strong core led by their talented rotation, it’s not implausible that Cincinnati could compete next season. A frugal offseason would certainly make building a strong roster more difficult for Krall and his front office, particularly with middle-of-the-order presence Nick Castellanos likely to sign elsewhere as a free agent. A returning group including Castillo, Mahle, Votto, Jesse Winker, Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson certainly has promise, though. Speculatively speaking, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them target near-MLB players in potential discussions involving Gray to help thread that needle of remaining competitive while cutting costs.