This Date in Transaction History: Three Sonny Gray Trade Teams
On this date, three years ago, the Reds, Mariners and Yankees reached agreement on a complex deal. Not only was it a fairly rare three-team swap, but the deal only crossed the finish line when the most notable player involved agreed to a three-year contract extension with his new club. .
As part of that January 21, 2019 deal, the Reds landed Sonny Gray. Cincinnati agreed to take over the right-hander’s $7.5 million salary for this season and promised him an additional $30.5 million through 2022. (The deal also included a 12-member club option, $5 million for 2023). The Reds also landed a left-handed pitching prospect Reiver Sanmartin from New York. In exchange, they sent an infielder Shed Long Jr. in Seattle, which knocked down its recent rookie in the second round, Josh Stowers, to the Yankees.
Gray, an All-Star and AL Cy Young finalist in 2015, was the obvious headliner of the deal. After a generally solid run in Oakland, he was sent to the Yankees at the 2017 trade deadline. Still, Gray didn’t fare as well in his year-plus in the Bronx, posting a mediocre 4.51 ERA / 4.40 FIP over 195 2/3 innings. He faced particular difficulties within the friendly batting limits of Yankee Stadium, managing a 6.55 ERA in home meet during his pinstripe time.
The Reds identified Gray as a target as they neared the end of a rebuild that had landed them in the basement of the NL Central for four consecutive seasons. They were rewarded for this decision, as Gray immediately turned things around in his new surroundings. He twirled 175 1/3 frames with a 2.87 ERA in his first season with the Reds, earning his second All-Star nod and a few downvotes from Cy Young in the process. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference named Gray the team’s most valuable player that year by Wins Above Replacement.
Gray’s stellar first season wasn’t enough to get the Reds to the playoffs, but Cincinnati qualified for an expanded playoff the following year. His 56 3.70 ERA ball innings in the shortened season weren’t quite as impressive as his freshman numbers, but it was still solidly above-average production that contributed to a decent 31 team. -29. The Reds didn’t make the playoffs on a full schedule last year, but Gray had another great performance. The 32-year-old’s 4.19 ERA marked a bit of a setback, but a 27% strikeout rate, 47.2% slug percentage and 3.85 SIERA suggest that he may have been affected by poor defending behind him.
Cincinnati hasn’t had the team success they’ve no doubt hoped for over the past three seasons. It’s not Gray’s fault, however. In 366 2/3 innings with the Reds, the Vanderbilt product posted a 3.49/3.57 FIP ERA, holding opposing hitters to a measly .208/.292/.345 line. Buying low after his run-ins with the Yankees proved a smart move for former president Dick Williams, general manager Nick Krall and the rest of Cincinnati’s front office.
It remains to be seen if Gray’s tenure with the Reds is over. He’s still controllable for two seasons under the terms of the extension he signed at the time of the trade. The organization may be looking to cut payrolls post-lockdown, and Gray offers perhaps the best mix of recent productivity, trade availability, and 2022 salary (about $10.167 million) of anyone on the listing.
Whether Gray is dealt a third time or opens next season in Cincinnati, the deal retrospectively counts as a win for the Reds. In fact, of the three prospects involved in the trade, Sanmartín is the only one who remains with the club that acquired him. He made his first two MLB starts in the final week of last season and could be a deep starter or long reliever for Cincinnati this year.
The other two prospects – Long and Stowers – were more popular than Sanmartín at the time of the trade. However, neither emerged as a long-term option in their new organizations. Long counted 412 plate appearances over three years with Seattle. He hit well as a rookie but struggled between 2020 and 2021, dealing with recurring injury issues around his right shin. Cut from the Mariners’ 40-man roster at the end of last season, the 26-year-old elected minor league free agency and is yet to sign elsewhere. Long numbers to get another opportunity – even if only through a juvenile pact – and he’s young enough to have a real shot at turning things around, but he hasn’t had the kind impact in Seattle that their front office no doubt hoped for.
Stowers, meanwhile, is yet to break into the majors. He spent two years in the New York farm system, then was traded to the Rangers last April as part of the deal that sent Coarse odor in the Bronx. The 24-year-old outfielder (25 next month) went on to hit .220/.311/.466 in 351 Double-A plate appearances. Not added to Texas’ 40-man roster after the season, he will be eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft once the lockout ends. As with Long, it’s far too early to close the books on Stowers’ career, but he’ll be available to the rest of the league for little more than an active roster spot in the coming months.
The deal also gave the Yankees a Competitive Balance pick from the Reds in the upcoming draft. New York used this selection (#38 overall) to catch the southpaw TJ Sikkema from the University of Missouri. Sikkema, who missed the entire 2021 campaign due to injury, was listed by Baseball America as the No. 23 prospect in the Yankees system at midseason. Between the lost minor league season in 2020 and last year’s injury-ravaged campaign, he’s yet to reach full-season ball. Sikkema will be eligible for next offseason’s Rule 5 draft if he is not added to New York’s 40-man roster, making the 2022 campaign an especially important campaign for his future in the organization.
Note: This article has been updated to indicate that the Yankees have also acquired a competitive balance selection from the Reds.