Reds: Don’t be so quick to write off Sonny Gray as a goner

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 15: Pitcher Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds flips the ball. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 15: Pitcher Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds flips the ball. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The future of Sonny Gray in Cincinnati is, well, gray. The Reds’ starting pitcher has endured an up-and-down 2021 campaign and there are questions about whether or not the right-hander will return next season.

Gray will be, along with Wade Miley, a veteran among a bunch of young, up-and-coming pitching prospects. Gray is under contract through next season and has a club-option for the 2023 season as well.

Who is ultimately chosen to be among David Bell’s five starting pitchers once the 2022 season kicks off will be one of the most intriguing stories to follow this winter and into spring training. While it was a fierce rumor last offseason, I’m not sure if the trade market for Sonny Gray will be as active this go-around.

Will the Cincinnati Reds shop Gray once again, or should the front office head into next season with the Vanderbilt alum anchoring the rotation? Though moving on from Gray and his $10.2M salary next season could be an option, my hope is the Reds reconsider putting Gray on the trade block.

The Reds should hang onto Sonny Gray heading into next season.

It’s hard to view the Cincinnati Reds as being active in the free agent market. The team has a lot of good, young talent in its farm system and several of the team’s young players made a positive impact in 2021. Both Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson look to be solid pieces that the Reds could build on heading into 2022 and beyond.

Jose Barrero’s future is still unknown, and the rookie has struggled at the dish during his limited opportunities this season. But, it’s still very likely that Barrero heads into next season as the odds-on favorite to be Cincinnati’s starting shortstop in 2022.

The starting rotation, however, is littered with question marks. While all five pitchers are currently under team control heading into the offseason, with Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo poised to make an impact on next year’s squad, it’s hard to see the quintet of Sonny Gray, Wade Miley, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Vladimir Gutierrez all returning to the hill for the Reds in 2022.

Cincinnati holds a $10M club-option for Miley. Given how well the left-hander performed this season, it’s hard to see the Reds passing on the opportunity to bring the 34-year-old back to the Queen City. The front office could even choose to bring Miley back and then trade the veteran over the winter. Miley could certainly sign a more lucrative contract this winter as a free agent.

Both Castillo and Mahle will enter their second time through the arbitration process this winter. After taking home $4.2M and $2.2M respectively, it’s a safe assumption that both right-handers could easily double their salary heading into 2022. Will the Reds want to pay that hefty raise due to both Castillo and Mahle next season, or will one or both be shopped this winter.

In Sonny Gray, the Cincinnati Reds know what they have. A two-time All-Star who’s overly committed to his craft. Gray described his 2021 performance as “very average”, yet the 31-year-old still made 26 starts despite three separate trips to the IL.

While Gray’s HR/9 reached the highest he’d seen since 2015, his K/9 (10.31) and BB/9 (3.33) were in-line with his numbers from his 2019 All-Star campaign. Gray still recorded 155 punch outs over 135.1 innings, but those 19 home runs the right-hander surrendered are a bit concerning.

I, for one, would like to see Sonny Gray and the Cincinnati Reds give it one more go in 2022. While moving on from Gray’s $10.2M next season could free up some money to sign Mahle, Castillo, or Jesse Winker to long-term extensions, if the Nashville native plays up to his potential, that contract amounts to a bargain.

While it’s tempting for fans to think that Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo can just be inserted into next rotation and have immediate success, history would tell you that’s not always the case. There are other players the Reds should look to move before they turn their attention to Sonny Gray.

Barnhart's time in Cincinnati is winding down. Next

Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama are both on big-money deals next season. While it would be much harder to find a trade partner for either Moustakas or Akiyama, the Reds front office should fully investigate those avenues before looking to deal Sonny Gray this offseason.