Sonny Gray is one of four New York Yankees starters in 2018 who are etched in stone. They have several options to find the fifth. The pitcher in the number three slot, though, is the guy who can jettison the team to the top of the AL East and beyond.
We’ll say he gets a pass for his performance (4-7 3.72), allowing him time to adjust to his new surroundings and because we know he is capable of doing big things.
In 2018, however, the honeymoon is over, and the Yankees need Gray to be even better than he was with Oakland, where he averaged 13 wins a season with a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
The Yankees’ star staff, led by Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, with ten-game winner Jordan Montgomery sprinkled in somewhere, is good but not good enough to secure the 28th championship for the franchise, even with CC Sabathia penciled in on a one-year deal the Yankees would be crazy not to pursue. But the swing guy who can add fifteen wins or more and pitch late into most of his starts is Gray.
It’s time for Sonny Gray to pony-up
You’ll recall that Brian Cashman was under the gun at the trade deadline last year, even hearing from the Yankees‘ principal owner, Hal Steinbrenner, that expectations were higher than just making the playoffs. With a number of teams in contention for the services Gray could provide, Oakland general manager Billy Beane held out for the best offer he could get. And that’s how the A’s wound up with James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler, three highly favored prospects in the Yankees’ organization.
Cashman did live up to his reputation for being sly, though, by getting Beane to include international signing bonus money in the deal, automatically putting the Yankees in contention to sign the Japanese Babe Ruth, Shohei Otani, whose status for 2018 has yet to be determined by the MLB Player’s Association.
Nevertheless, the star attraction in the deal was and remains Gray. But the fact is the Yankees did not deal only for the pitcher who has finished three times in the Top 10 in ERA. They acquired the 28-year-old Gray because of his upside, meaning the team believes he has yet to reach his full potential.
Here’s how I characterized Gray and his upside in a piece written following the trade:
‘Gray has winner written all over his face when he pitches. He’s fearless, and he brings everything he has to each pitch he throws with designs of the next pitch he’ll throw to the same batter in a sequence that comes to him instinctively.
Ask him about the grip he uses on his slider, and he’ll look at you dumbfounded because he doesn’t have a single grip he uses for his slider. He makes it up as he goes along, confounding not only the hitter but sometimes his catcher too as the ball darts this way instead of that way.’
What remains for Sonny Gray to accomplish before his name can be synonymous with those two Cy Young winners is achieving consistency from start to start. This means avoiding games like the clunker he threw in a crucial game against the Orioles in mid-September.
And it means finding another pitch when his primary “out pitch” isn’t working that day. Or finding a way to pitch out of a bases loaded, nobody out situation in the third inning, without having to turn the game over to the bullpen.
Or, to put it another way, more like he did (ironically) against the Yankees as seen in this video:
Will Sonny Gray be the difference maker?
Sonny Gray’s upside says he can do this. The trouble is he’s now pitching in the Bronx, where more than one pitcher who couldn’t handle the pressure has been run out of town, and expectations to win a championship comes with the territory every season.
As mentioned before, Sonny Gray does not impress as a deer caught in the headlights and he can definitely win 13 games for the Yankees before he even gets out of bed in the morning. But the question, is can he win 18 or 20, becoming the difference maker in taking the AL East from the Boston Red Sox next season.
Beyond that, of course, is that elusive 28th ring, which is the real reason why Sonny Gray is in New York City and not Oakland. I supported the trade in July and I enthusiastically believe Gray will be the difference maker, in a positive way, in 2018.