Cincinnati Reds: Sonny Gray’s contract now looks like a bargain

CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 20: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the San Diego Padres at Great American Ball Park on August 20, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 20: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the San Diego Padres at Great American Ball Park on August 20, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
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With pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole cashing in this offseason, the Cincinnati Reds deal for Sonny Gray now looks like a bargain.

Last offseason, the Cincinnati Reds traded prospect Shed Long and a draft pick to the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Sonny Gray. The Reds immediately inked Gray to a four-year/$38M extension. Seeing Stephen Strasburg‘s new contract, coupled with the $300M contract Gerrit Cole is likely to receive, shows what a bargain Gray’s contract really is.

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals and Strasburg agreed to a seven-year/$245M contract, breaking the previous mark set by a pitcher when David Price agreed to a seven-year/$214M contract back in 2015. Cole has been rumored to be looking at a deal that may top $300M.

Now, both Strasburg and Cole are elite-level pitchers. Strasburg is a three-time All-Star and took home the World Series MVP trophy following his dominating performance in the postseason. Cole has put together back-to-back All-Star seasons, was a Top 5 Cy Young candidate the past two years, and is arguably the best pitcher in the game.

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But, if you just look at last season’s stats, it’s hard to see a glaring difference between the numbers put up by Strasburg and Cole compared to Gray. Strasburg went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and a career-high 251 strikeouts. It was, however, the first season Strasburg has surpassed 28 starts since 2014.

Cole, who finished second in the AL Cy Young vote to his teammate Justin Verlander, went 20-5 with a league-best 2.50 ERA. Cole surpassed the career-high of 276 strikeouts he set in 2018 with 326 strikeouts to lead the majors last season. Coles K/9 was an astounding 13.8.

Sonny Gray didn’t come close to the strikeout numbers we saw from Strasburg and Cole, striking out a career-high 205 batters last season, but his ERA of 2.87 was better than that of Strasburg and within striking distance of Cole’s. Gray lacked the number of wins, mainly due to lack of run support, but we’ve come to accept that wins and losses are not an entirely fair way to judge pitchers.

When you look at wins above replacement (WAR), a sabermetic statistic used to sum up a player’s contributions to his team, there’s not much difference. Gray’s 5.6 WAR trails that of Strasburg (6.5) and Cole (6.8), but not by much. The point is, while Strasburg and Cole are measurably better players, there’s not a great deal of difference between the three.

Essentially, the remainder of Gray’s contract ($30.2M), will likely be less what Gerrit Cole makes in the first year with his new team. It’s now debatable as to which Reds player has the better bargain contract; Gray or Eugenio Suárez.

Having Gray locked up for the next three seasons, as well as a team option for 2023, at that price is tremendous value for the Cincinnati Reds. Heck, the combined salary of all four starters next season may not even equal the $35M that Strasburg is slated to make in 2020.

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The Reds window for contention is wide open thanks to Gray’s team-friendly deal and Luis Castillo having not yet reached arbitration. This offseason has been quite kind to starting pitchers thus far, and it’s likely to continue. There’s rumors that Madison Bumgarner may land a deal worth $100M. Thankfully, the Reds deal with Sonny Gray affords the team the ability to add another impact player or two this winter.