Cincinnati Reds: Why the Sonny Gray trade makes sense

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26: Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees celebrates the final out of the third inning after Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals struck out with the bases loaded at Yankee Stadium on July 26, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26: Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees celebrates the final out of the third inning after Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals struck out with the bases loaded at Yankee Stadium on July 26, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

For the third time this offseason, the Cincinnati Reds front office have upgraded the starting rotation. The acquisition of Sonny Gray from the New York Yankees adds another quality arm to an overhauled staff.

Sonny Gray is the latest addition to what has turned into a very busy winter for Cincinnati Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams and General Manager Nick Krall.  The 29-year-old Nashville-native joins fellow right-hander Tanner Roark and southpaw Alex Wood in a drastically transformed rotation.

In exchange for Gray the Reds are sending their No. 7 ranked prospect Shed Long and a draft pick to the Big Apple.  Long, a left-handed hitting second baseman in the Cincinnati Reds organization, is a former 12th round draft pick in the 2013 draft.

Many scouts around baseball believe the 23-year-old Long has a chance to be a quality Major League infielder.  This past season at Double-A Pensacola, he slashed .261/.353/.412 with 12 home runs and 19 stolen bases.  Despite Long’s promising future there are a number of reasons that made him expendable.

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First and foremost is the current second base situation.  All-Star Scooter Gennett currently occupies the position, however, he’ll be eligible for free agency following the 2019 season and all indications point to the Reds allowing Gennett to test the open market.  Even with Gennett’s potential departure becoming more of a certainty with each passing day, the Reds have another option.

Nick Senzel, the Cincinnati Reds top-ranked prospect and No. 6 overall in baseball, seems destined to make his Major League debut in the 2019 season.  At this point, the club does not have a defined position for him and he’ll be receiving playing time in centerfield throughout Spring Training.  However, all signs point to him being the starting second baseman on Opening Day in 2020.

There a couple of reasons why Senzel is probably not the long term answer in the outfield.  Those reasons are prospects Jose Siri and Taylor Trammell.  Siri, the Reds No. 15 prospect, spent the 2018 season playing in Double-A Pensacola and should start the 2019 campaign in Triple-A Louisville.  While many scouts believe Siri’s defense is Major League ready, he still has improvements to make at the plate to take the next step.

Trammell, on the other hand, is the No. 2 ranked prospect in the Reds farm system and No. 17 overall in baseball.  The 21-year-old left-handed hitting centerfielder just completed a season in Advanced-A Daytona and should begin this season in Double-A Chattanooga.

Scouts are almost unanimous in their praise for Trammell and many believe he’s a future All-Star.  While question marks surround who’ll play centerfield entering the 2019 season, with Siri and Trammell waiting in the wings, it should only be a temporary question mark.

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This brings us back to Long.  Fortunately, for the Reds their infield, both present and future, is not a concern.  With Eugenio Suárez manning third base, José Peraza patrolling shortstop, and Gennett and Senzel at second base, the idea of Long contributing for the Reds at the Major League level was a long shot at best.  The Reds front office simply dealt from an area of strength in sending Long to New York.

Some critics will argue the Reds were able to obtain Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals for a prospect barely cracking the team’s top 30 rankings in Tanner Rainey.  Those same critics will say how can you give up a Top 10 prospect and a draft pick for a pitcher with similar numbers to Roark’s?

Quite simply this is a completely different situation.  In Roark’s case, the Nationals had signed free agent left-handed starter Patrick Corbin to a 6 year/$140 million deal and were looking to address other areas of need.

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For the Nationals, Roark was a salary dump and they were willing to take a gamble on Rainey potentially contributing to their bullpen in the future.  Credit the Reds front office for seizing this opportunity and dealing a fringe prospect, at best, for a middle of the rotation starter.

The Gray situation is not as cut and dry.  The Yankees stated early this off season they would be willing to listen to offers for the right-hander and seemed intent on moving him.  Brian Cashman, the Yankees General Manager, reportedly had multiple suitors interested in Gray’s services.

A fringe prospect was not going to push this deal over the finish line.  The Reds brass did what any smart front office would do in sending a quality, yet position blocked, prospect to address a current need.

Acquiring Gray also represents a reunion with Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson.  During his college days at Vanderbilt, Gray was under Johnson’s tutelage as pitching coach.  One has to believe Johnson’s influence was a key component in bringing Gray to the Queen City.  It also stands to reason that Johnson knows Gray’s strengths as well anyone and can utilize that knowledge in making his former protegé as successful as possible.

So what exactly are the Reds getting in Sonny Gray?  Over the course of his career, Gray has allowed less than one home run per nine innings.  He also sports a career 53.3% ground ball rate.  As we all know, to be successful pitching in Great American Ballpark you must limit home runs and keep the ball on the ground.  Those are two areas of strength for Gray.

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While the trade for Gray may not be the elite starter Cincinnati Reds fans have wished for, he does provide another quality arm to the pitching staff and the team did not mortgage their future to do it.  At the beginning of the offseason, if I would have told you the Reds would acquire Gray, Roark, Wood, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp without surrendering a top five prospect, we would have all gladly signed up. Baseball is about to be fun again in Cincinnati.