Cincinnati Reds: Getting to know new addition Sonny Gray

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 25: Starting pitcher Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees pitches in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles during game two of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 25, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 25: Starting pitcher Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees pitches in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles during game two of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 25, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The Cincinnati Reds have shown an interest to improve drastically by bolstering their offense and pitching staff. The latest addition has proven to not have been acquired easily, and is a potential big risk-reward signing for this team.

Amid the drama of free agency, the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees created their own drama surrounding starting pitcher Sonny Gray. With the Reds closing in on the deal, it hit a snag due to what the Reds were willing to include in the deal.

While initial talks included former prospect Jeter Downs, the Yankees settled on second base prospect Shed Long and a 2019 draft pick heading to New York. While most fans initially wouldn’t see this as a good pick up, the Reds hope that Gray can return to prominence in this revitalized 2019 season for the team.

At college baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt, Gray developed into an eventual ace of the pitching staff during his time in Nashville. After becoming a starter his freshman year, Gray drastically improved to his junior year where he led the Commodores to the College World Series, eventually losing to Florida.

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His best season was his junior year where he had a 12-4 record with a 2.43 ERA totaling 132 strikeouts. After only three years Gray was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the first round (18th Overall) of the 2011 MLB Draft.

Sonny Skies in Oakland

Getting his Major League debut in 2013, Gray flashed future potential and ended the season 5-3 in 10 starts with a 2.67 ERA. The A’s wound up in the Division Series that October and eventually would lose the series to the Detroit Tigers. Gray was a vital piece of their rotation that series when he started Game 2 and also Game 5. While the A’s were out, Gray established himself as a great pitcher on a young A’s team.

The following season, Gray was named the Opening Day starter and continued to earn monthly league accolades. He finished the season 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA, and the A’s once again made the playoffs, eventually losing to the Kansas City Royals in the Wild Card.

The 2015 season proved to be Grays’ best as he was once again named the Opening Day starter for the Athletics. He finished the year with a career-best 14-7 record and a 2.73 ERA. Coupled with a 1.08 WHIP, Gray finished the season third in the AL CY Young Award race. Capped off by his first All-Star Game selection, Gray ended 2015 as one of the best in baseball.

Repeating from such a breakout season proved to be too much for Gray as he entered the 2016 season, and it surely showed. Suffering multiple stints on the DL due to a strained right trapezius and a strained right forearm, Gray ended his 2016 campaign with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a lot of questions and doubt.

A Bronx Bombing

The bad just kept getting worse for Gray heading into the 2017 season. Halfway through, the A’s decided Gray was done and traded him to the New York Yankees. In New York, the pressure never let up and Gray crawled to the finish line. The Yankees eventually made it to the ALCS where they lost to the Houston Astros in seven games, but Gray finished with an abysmal 4-7 record and 3.72 ERA in New York.

The hype surrounding the Yankees going into 2018 was an all-time high, as they were projected to reach and win the World Series with their offseason additions. One of the biggest questions however, was the Sonny Gray project, and if it was going to continue its downward spiral. Gray did finish with 11 wins to 9 losses, but his struggles extended to his high amount of walks given up, as well the amount of runs he gave up in his total innings pitched.

His struggles as a starter culminated in August when he was demoted to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. Gray definitely was a road pitcher, pitching a respectable 3.62 ERA away from the Bronx.

In Yankee Stadium though, Gray was rocked for what would become an astounding 7.71 ERA and honestly a disappointment. As the Yankees would eventually lose to the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS 3-1, Gray was entering the offseason unsure of where he would pitch come 2019.

Start Spreading the News

During an offseason full of free agency news and rumors, Gray still remained unsigned going into yesterday. While many teams have been linked to acquiring Gray, the Reds emerged as a front-runner to sign him over the likes of the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. First reported a few days prior, the deal stalled momentarily due to what exact pieces would be involved, along with the Reds wanting to sign Gray to an extension.

Pushing the 72 hour window of getting the deal done, Gray officially signed with the Reds and even got an extension upwards of $30.5 million over three years (2020-2021). In 2023 there will also be a club option for $12 million, and due to the Yankees picking up his 2019 year option, Gray will be under control for a while.

Skies not so Gray?

While Gray comes in as a troubled pitcher to a hitter-friendly ballpark, he joins a young staff looking to make some waves. With Gray, Alex Wood, and Tanner Roark as key additions to a budding rotation, the Reds finally are getting some support for their powerful offense.

Gray is a known ground-ball pitcher, which should give hope for his improvement and the Reds’ defense. Another plus is that newly acquired pitching coach Derek Johnson was his college coach at Vanderbilt, and is comfortable with Gray. This encouragement could allow Johnson to help Gray return to his All-Star form he showed in Oakland.

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The situation couldn’t have ended better for Gray and it is now all on him to show why the Cincinnati Reds went all in. This deal is a low-risk move that could pay dividends for a potential ace of the pitching staff. Only time will tell if Gray turns out to be a positive addition in the Queen City, but one thing is for sure, and that is the Reds are tired of losing. Look for the Reds to continue acquiring other pieces as spring looms in the distance.