Given the market’s potential to have a number of quality starters available, and the Cubs’ hybrid need to add pitching in the near and long term, I think it’s going to be a robust trade season of rumors.
Buster Olney writes about Gray, 27, who might become one of the top controllable arms available on the market. Although he had a down 2016 season featuring a couple of injuries, and then dealt with a lat strain that delayed the start of his 2017 season, Gray has started five times so far this year, and he’s looked really good lately. The peripherals all look strong, and a FanGraphs writeup yesterday notes how much he’s looking like the Gray of 2014 and 2015, when he looked comfortably like a front-of-the-rotation starter (albeit a good two, and not necessarily an ace).
If he keeps looking like this in the run up to July, A’s VP of Baseball Ops Billy Beane may look to cash in on a valuable chip before the arbitration years arrive for Gray, as Beane has done so many times before.
If that happens, Olney believes the Cubs, Astros, and Yankees, in particular, will be interested in Gray and other controllable starters like Archer, Jose Quintana (whom the White Sox won’t trade to the Cubs), or Gerrit Cole (whom the Pirates probably won’t trade to the Cubs).
Gray is one of those guys who has not infrequently been connected to the Cubs over the past couple years because (1) he established himself as a reliable, upside starter before his arbitration years, and (2) will eventually price himself out of the A’s range. That’s really all it takes to connect a starting pitcher, at least obliquely, to the Cubs these days, because it’s widely known that they are looking for – and have been looking for two+ years – controllable, long-ish term starting pitching.
We can’t know (yet) what the front office thinks about Gray, specifically, so you don’t want to go too far out on a limb to say he’s a definite target. We do know that they have shown a hesitation to go big after guys who’ve had injury issues, and Gray dealt with two of them last year: a strained trapezius and a strained forearm. Although an MRI revealed no structural issues, I still get a little nervous any time I hear about a forearm injury. There’s connectivity there to the elbow, and forearm issues are sometimes related to eventual elbow troubles.
If Gray stays healthy between now and the deadline, and continues to pitch well, that will go a long way to alleviating concerns out there about what he can be going forward … which will, of course, increase his price tag in trade.
For now, this remains a “monitor” situation, together with the other trade options out there. With each turn through the rotation, it looks increasingly likely that the Cubs will be in the starting pitcher market, whether to add someone at the front of the rotation and push everyone else back, to simply add some depth, or to focus on 2018 and beyond (or some combination of all three).
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