If you’re anything like me at this moment, your Thanksgiving meal (and the seconds you had thereafter (and the leftovers you already just ate)) is settling firmly in your gut, and you, in turn, are settling in for some chill time.
While chilling, I wanted to toss up something from Jon Morosi about another Jon that could inform our rumor-tracking over the next week:
Free agent RHP Jon Gray is viewed within the baseball industry as a good candidate to sign within the next week. Steven Matz's contract is a useful reference point for Gray; both are 30 years old, and neither received a qualifying offer. @MLBNetwork @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 24, 2021
When this kind of report dropped about Steven Matz, the offers started getting finalized, and a deal was done before Thanksgiving (with the wrong team, but whatever). So this makes me wonder if Jon Gray is not only preferring to sign before the CBA expires on December 1, but is determined to do so. Given how quickly the pitching market has moved, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see a guy like Gray sign next.
So, then, it seems we’ll be tracking Gray rumors over the next several days, including getting some final word on whether the Cubs are involved. (Insert obligatory joke about Gray being the next guy for whom the Cubs can finish in fourth place.) It would make a lot of sense if they WOULD be involved, though, given the obvious needs in the rotation, their previous pursuit of pitchers in this tier, and Gray’s style as a harder-throwing, more-strikeout-inclined type. The Cubs are rather clearly on record as needing more of those types.
From our previous write-up on Gray, who seems like an easy yes if his contract is anywhere close to Matz’s (the rumor at the time was more in the 3/$30 million range, which seemed ridiculously low):
Gray is a really tough one to evaluate because of extremes in his performance and the Coors Field thing, and that is perhaps what makes him compelling. If you’re RIGHT about him, you could land yourself a stud on a reasonable deal. If you’re WRONG about him, you could wind up in a Tyler Chatwood situation – you know, the last time the Cubs aggressively targeted a young-ish former Rockies pitcher with tons of risk and tons of upside.
Which is not necessarily to compare those two as pitchers, only the situations.
Gray, who turns 30 next month, is a former top three draft pick who has dealt with minor bumps and bruises throughout his time in Colorado while mixing exceptional performances with disappointing ones. Unlike most Rockies players, he actually doesn’t feature enormous home/road splits, and the bones are all there for a mid-rotation starter. He throws 95 mph, has a top-tier slider, and also throws a curveball and a changeup. He had a really down 2020 season, but it’s pretty easy to throw that one out as a pandemic one-off, because he bounced back well in 2021.
Of course, “well” for Gray has generally been around a league average ERA or slightly better (last season’s ERA, when adjusted for the home park, was about 4% better than league average). He’s never quite lived up to his draft pedigree.
With Gray, you’d have to be pretty confident that you could either unlock another level in his game, or at least bring up the floor. That’d take some digging – more sophisticated than I’ll get into today – but a couple really superficial places I’d look quickly: (1) His performance takes a big hit with runners on base (specifically, his strikeout rate goes way down); (2) Why does he give up so many line drives (specifically), and how did he cut that number (again, specifically) in 2021?; (3) The fastball has been a pretty poor pitch for him overall, but he throws it 50% of the time – how necessary is it to make the nasty slider work, and could that balance at least be adjusted a bit?; (4) As a third pitch, the changeup appears to be wildly unsuccessful (compared to the curveball), so why has he started throwing the changeup more than the curveball the last few years?
On the balance, I’m intrigued. And I’m all the more intrigued thinking about whether you could actually get Gray on a three-year, $30 million deal. That seems like a surprisingly LOW risk bet for a guy with the upside of a 3.0 or 4.0-win mid-rotation starter. I would expect him to do better, actually. Maybe much better. But if that’s the rough range, count me in on the Cubs aggressively pursuing him for one of their many, many rotation vacancies. They need to get a lot of guys this offseason, and I’d rather they took chances on guys like Gray, who come with upside (and over three years, even better), but who also won’t kill their efforts over the next few years if they don’t produce. Short-term, high-risk, high-upside, high-AAV types (and, in Gray’s case, you can apparently play around a bit with the short-term part and the high-AAV part … ).