Weekly Mailbag: Re-Visiting Sonny Gray, Regrets, and an Off-Season Trade Idea!
I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend, and I hope all of those who have returned to school/work have had a smooth transition. At least we’ve had plenty of good baseball to watch since last weekend, and we’ll have more this weekend with the Yankees up in Boston.
Without any further ado, in this week’s mailbag, we’ll re-visit the Sonny Gray trade, explore a possible off-season trade, and talk about Stanton and the playoffs. Let’s get at it:
Mark asks: Traded James Kaprielian (minors), Jorge Mateo (minors) and Dustin Fowler to the Oakland Athletics. Received Sonny Gray and international bonus slot money.
Did this turn out to be an even trade WAR speaking? Mateo seemed like the next guy to steal 100 bases in a year, and now nobody hears from him.
This trade is one that I think all Yankee fans would like to burn from their memories. At the time of the trade, James Kaprielian was one of the best pitching prospects in the Majors, and prior to needing Tommy John surgery, his stuff had ticked up a couple of grades from what scouts saw from him in college. Kaprielian was in the high-90s with his fastball, with two plus off-speed/breaking ball offerings, and the tools to flash both control and command. Tommy John surgery diminished Kaprielian’s value somewhat, but he was still one of the most valuable minor league assets the Yankees had at the time.
The other guy in that deal whose value was diminished by injury was Dustin Fowler. Coming into 2017, Dustin Fowler looked like a guy who could play all 3 outfield spots defensively with 20/20 or even 25/25 potential in an era when the ball didn’t fly out of the ballpark like it does today (what a difference a couple of years makes!). Fowler, of course, suffered that horrific knee injury in his first Major League game at US Cellular Field in Chicago when he slammed his knee into a utility box that was in-play in RF.
Mateo was the classic high-risk, high-reward prospect. Mateo flashed speed, defense, and line drive pop in the low minors, but temporarily stalled at A+ in 2016 amid whispers that he needed to be reprimanded by the Yankees for his attitude/conduct. Whether or not the whispers were true, Mateo was having a bounce-back 2017 season for AA Trenton, and his prospect value was on the rise again.
On paper, Sonny Gray made all the sense in the world for the Yankees. Gray had playoff experience, was relied on to anchor the A’s pitching staff, and was widely considered the top starting pitcher available on the trade market, at least until Justin Verlander was placed on waivers that same August. The Yankees gave up a lot of valuable prospects to get Gray, but at the time, I was really excited. I thought Gray was the missing piece to the 2017 puzzle, and I thought we’d see him in pinstripes for years to come.
We know now that Sonny Gray’s tenure with the Yankees was an unmitigated disaster, for whatever the reason. Gray was never comfortable in pinstripes, and his performance suffered. Gray was worth just 1.7 bWAR in his 1.5 seasons with the Yankees, and he only spun 195.2 innings. Certainly, that was not what anyone expected.
That said, the guys the Yankees traded have not yet established themselves at the big league level either. Kaprielian had a tough comeback from Tommy John surgery, and his stuff is back to where it was when he was in college, not the electric stuff he showed when he came into the Yankee system. Kaprielian has torn through the A’s minor leagues this season, and recently made his AAA debut at 25 years old. Despite the loss of stuff, he has maintained the ability to strike hitters out and limit walks and runs. Kaprielian may not be the number 1 starter that many dreamed on years ago, but he still has the potential to be a good mid-rotation piece if he stays healthy, which is a big “if” at this point.
Mateo has played solid baseball at AAA this year offensively, however the growth Mateo needed to make still hasn’t occurred. Mateo still gets thrown out too often on the bases, 11 times in 35 chances at AAA, while lacking even below-average plate discipline that would allow him to thrive in the Majors. The A’s also continue to play Mateo at SS, despite the fact that he may make one two many mistakes to stay there long-term. I’m not sure that Mateo is a regular at the big league level.
Fowler is the saddest story of the group. He’s never regained the pop or the speed that made him such an interesting prospect following his knee injury. He’s gotten a couple of cups of coffee in the A’s outfield, but he’s been passed on the depth chart, and he hasn’t had a great year at AAA.
Generally, I would say that this trade still has the potential to go in the A’s favor if Kaprielian stays healthy and becomes a mainstay in the Majors for a few years. That said, the Yankees have been active in the International Amateur Free Agent market, and the bonus pool money acquired from the A’s helped them to sign a deep list of prospects in the 2018 J2 signing period.
The trade may not have worked out as hoped for the Yankees, but the process they took to get there was good. Hindsight is 20/20, but I’d do a trade like this again. I wonder if the Yankees feel differently, given the fact that they sat back at the deadline this year…
Brian asks: Did the Yankees make a mistake not adding pitching at the trade deadline? Will they regret it in the playoffs?
I think that given the bullpen the Yankees have assembled, the Yankee pitching staff will be formidable in the playoffs. That said, yes, I am upset the Yankees didn’t do anything.
I’m not upset that the Yankees didn’t go for the top-end of the market – that would have been expensive and painful, and I’m sure Cashman had good reasons for not pulling the trigger on deals like that. I am far more upset that we didn’t acquire a good role player for the starting rotation.
We’ve seen pitchers exactly like that hurt the Yankees recently. Ironically, they were also two of my favorite trade targets: Mike Minor and Tanner Roark. Minor didn’t get traded, in fact, the Rangers extended him. That said, I think they would have traded him at the right price. Maybe the price was too high, but I still thought that Minor was perfect for the Yankees.
The most egregious mistake was not trading for Roark. Roark has pitched solidly for years in the National League, and the A’s acquired him for a relative song: Jameson Hannah, a 2018 2nd round pick that wouldn’t even crack the top-15 Yankee prospects. Trading a prospect like Anthony Siegler would even be too much value by comparison. Roark dismantled the Yankee lineup when the two teams faced-off earlier in August, and he’s pitched to a 2.86 ERA for Oakland since the trade. That would look awfully good right now, and it would in the playoffs as well.
Yes, the Yankees will regret this.
Lionel asks: Trade for Kluber this winter and what will it take to make that trade?
I love Kluber, when healthy, but his injury woes this season are troubling. Kluber broke the ulna bone in his elbow (pretty important when throwing a baseball), and he was shut down during rehab due to an oblique injury, so he likely won’t pitch again this season. Even prior to that, Kluber’s velocity is trending in the wrong direction.
In short, Kluber has a lot of red flags, which ironically makes him a good buy-low candidate.
I honestly don’t think that the Indians will deal this low on Kluber, nor do I think that they are ready to admit that rebuilding is necessary. I think Kluber will stay put this winter, but if I were a GM, here is what I would be willing to offer:
Jonathan Loaisiga, Thairo Estrada, and Luis Gil
I think that the Indians would hang up, and they’d probably be right. I think a big league caliber arm, plus a near-ready middle infield prospect, and a low minors lottery ticket (although the numbers look really good on this ticket) is all I would be willing to sacrifice for Kluber, specifically.
Even if Kluber isn’t the guy, I think the Yankees will acquire starting pitching this winter. Cross your fingers for Cole, but a buy-low candidate on the trade market would not surprise me.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for the great questions (as always), and keep sending them in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great weekend, and let’s see if the Yanks can put the nail in the Sox’s proverbial coffin for the Sox’s playoff hopes.