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MLB Trade Deadline: Sonny Gray heads to the Bronx

Sonny Gray was dealt to the Yankees for a group of prospects headlined by Jorge Mateo.

Tampa Bay Rays v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After a 2016 marred by injury and poor performance, Sonny Gray has seemingly returned to his former self. With the A’s sitting at the back of the AL West, a Gray trade made perfect sense, especially in this pitching-starved market. However, the deal that sent Gray and some international free agent money to the Yankees for Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian seems to be light on value.

After posting 4.6 and 5.2 pWARP seasons in 2014 and 2015, Gray established himself as a clear top-of-the-rotation starter. However, the righthander finished 2016 with career worsts in many categories. His 5.62 ERA, 4.11 DRA, and massive spike in walk rate were entirely out of the ordinary for him. Two stints on the disabled list limited him to just 117 innings for the A’s. Nonetheless, faith in Gray’s track record prompted interest in him during last year’s deadline and in the offseason. In lieu of dealing him last deadline, with his value in the basement, the A’s kept him and hoped for a rebound.

And those hopes were largely vindicated. With the A’s this season, Gray sat at a 3.07 DRA with a 23.5 percent K rate and a 7.5 percent walk rate. His strikeout rate popping up over five percentage points from 2016 is partly a product of the massive amount of whiffs he’s generating compared to last season.

Sonny Gray’s whiffs - 2016 v. 2017

Pitch Type 2016 2017 Δ
Pitch Type 2016 2017 Δ
Fourseam 4.86% 9.25% 90%
Sinker 6.10% 14.47% 137%
Change 8.59% 11.22% 31%
Slider 17.89% 22.41% 25%
Curve 14.15% 11.25% -20%
Cutter 19.05% 12.50% -34%

In addition to that, his HR/FB rate fell from the 17.5 percent high he posted last year to a more manageable 13.1 percent, which is still outside the norm for his career.

In addition to the stellar performance in the present, the Yankees acquired a player with several years of control going forward. Gray just entered his arbitration-eligible years this past offseason. The 27 year old is poised to become a free agent prior to the 2020 season. However, Gray will instantly become an extension candidate, now that he’s with a franchise with cash to spend.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees
Jorge Mateo (left) and Jacoby Ellsbury during Spring Training.
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In return for Gray, the A’s nabbed a package of prospects headlined by 22-year-old shortstop Jorge Mateo. Mateo has been lauded by many prospect evaluators for having rare 80 speed at a premium position — he has put in time at all three of shortstop, second base, and center field. Along with that speed comes a hit tool that some believe has a chance to profile as plus. Though he doesn’t look like he’ll ever hit for much power, his speed-heavy profile is something that can easily succeed at either shortstop, second base, or center field, meaning the bar he needs to clear offensively is lower. Defensively, John Sickles of Minor League Ball described him as solid at all three of his positions.

Mateo’s stock took a bit of a hit last season. After his 82-steal season in 2015, he was pushed as a top-30 prospect in all of baseball by some outlets, including Baseball America. However, he failed to impress in High-A in 2016 and even received a team suspension for an alleged clubhouse issue. His wRC+ dipped below 100 and he managed to steal just 36 bases over the course of the season. This tempered some expectations on him and caused him to open 2017 still in Hi-A Tampa.

Though he continued to stumble with the bat this season, his base stealing prowess looked to be back as he nabbed 28 over just 69 games. This prompted a promotion in late June to AA Trenton. Since getting the callup, Mateo has been on an offensive tear. His .398 wOBA and 147 wRC+ over those 30 games are both the highest of his career since his 21-game stint in High-A in 2015. His walk rate has spiked to north of ten percent, and he’s maintaining his impressive basestealing pace. Mateo’s performance has made him a hot button prospect once again after seemingly falling behind in 2016.

Dustin Fowler may be better known for a particularly gruesome injury; however, he carries legitimate value as a prospect. Eric Longenhagen described him as a “high-probability average everyday big leaguer” before the 2017 season. He’s a speedy centerfielder with extra base pop. Jarrett Sielder described him as a guy who “does nearly everything on the baseball field well,” but had concerns if he did any single thing well enough to avoid getting pushed out of a starting role.

Over his career, Fowler has shown solid production at all levels of the minor leagues. The former 13th round pick has consistently floated around 110 wRC+ over his minor league career, with the exception of a spike this year at AAA to a 137 wRC+. The speed, which Eric Longenhagen grades out at 60, is apparent on the basepaths as he swiped 25 bags last year and tallied 13 before getting hurt this season, with 16 caught stealings over that period.

Along with speed, Fowler has shown the ability to pepper the field with extra base hits. He ended last year with 30 doubles, 15 triples, and 12 home runs. Prior to the injury, he was well on his way to eclipsing those numbers with 19 doubles, 8 triples, and 13 home runs in just 313 plate appearances. Still, Fowler has never been a patient hitter. His peak walk rate came in 2015 in High-A at a measly 5.7 percent. And then you have the health concerns, given that he’ll spend the rest of the season on the DL with the aforementioned knee injury.

Finally, James Kaprielian might have been the most lauded of this group entering the season. The former UCLA ace touts a four-pitch mix with a fastball that can touch the upper 90s. His deceptive delivery helps his arsenal play up a bit more, and it certainly helps that he’s been tabbed as a strike thrower throughout his amateur and pro career. But durability has been a huge red flag for him as a pro. After being drafted in 2015, he’s only thrown 56 innings in pro ball.

Despite health concerns, Kaprielian has dazzled in the limited time he’s stayed on the mound. Even with the small amount of innings to his name, he was a consensus top-100 prospect at almost every outlet, getting as high as 43rd on FanGraphs’ list. He may be a bit of a wild card going forward in this deal, even more than most pitching prospects. If he stays healthy and continues to develop, he may end up the best player in this deal.

Overall, the Yankees sent a package to the A’s that isn’t short on talent, but is laden with risk. Mateo, Fowler, and Kaprielian all have shown quality tools and performed at high levels, but character and injury concerns are real for each of them. Meanwhile, the Yankees get a cost-controlled, top-of-the-rotation starter in Sonny Gray. Gray will certainly help headline their rotation as they try to grind out the AL East and perform in the playoffs.


Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.