With only a few days remaining until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline arrives, the Los Angeles Dodgers remain persistent in acquiring a front line-caliber starting pitcher to upgrade a rotation that’s expected to be without the services of Clayton Kershaw for a minimum of four weeks.
The Dodgers, to this point, have been prominently linked to the Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish, Oakland Athletics ace Sonny Gray and longtime Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander. A recent report suggested the Dodgers were ‘increasingly confident’ they’ll be able to trade for one of the three.
While Darvish is arguably the most talented pitcher on the market, he’s a rental for any club that acquires him. What’s more, the right-hander has vastly struggled this month, though a handful of mediocre starts shouldn’t scare teams away from Darvish’s upside and potential.
And though Verlander is the most accomplished arm among the trio, he’s statistically in the midst of one of his worst seasons since debuting in 2005 and is still owed $56 million over the next two years. That’s without factoring in a $20 million vesting option for 2020.
With Los Angeles attempting to stay under the luxury tax line, taking on a contract of that magnitude seems like a long shot. That leaves Gray, who checks off every box in what the Dodgers are looking for.
Along with the Dodgers, the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners have expressed interest in the right-hander as well.
The 27-year-old is just entering his prime and has bounced back from a disappointing 2016 campaign. In 97 innings this season, Gray owns a 3.43 ERA, 3.25 FIP and 1.18 WHIP with 94 strikeouts to 30 walks.
His strikeouts are up from last year (23.5 strikeout rate against 18.2 percent), while his walks have diminished (7.5 walk rate down from 8.1 percent). Gray has also significantly reduced the home run ball in 2017.
He’s allowed just eight this season (0.7 home runs per nine innings) after surrendering a career-high 18 in 2016 (1.4 home runs per nine).
The longest-tenured Athletic is generating more swings outside of the strike zone than ever before (32.6 percent) and has already accumulated 2.2 WAR (FanGraphs) on the year. Over his last five starts, Gray has pitched to a stellar 1.39 ERA and 2.51 FIP in 30.2 innings.
The 2015 American League All-Star missed all of April with a strained lat, but he’s easily on pace to exceed 150 innings this season. It would be the third time in the last four seasons Gray reaches that mark.
Assuming Kershaw returns in September, the presence of Gray would allow the Dodgers to split up the three lefties in the postseason. Not to mention he’s a major upgrade over the likes of Kenta Maeda and Brandon McCarthy.
Gray is under team control through the 2019 season and is eligible for arbitration this offseason. If the Dodgers prefer long-term stability instead of yielding prospects for a rental like Darvish, there isn’t a better option available.
Given the familiarity between the Dodgers and Athletics front offices, hammering out a deal for Gray shouldn’t be all that difficult; assuming Los Angeles is willing to absorb the presumed exorbitant prospect cost.
A deal for Gray will likely require one of Walker Buehler or Alex Verdugo as the headline piece, with additional second-tier prospects heading to Oakland as well. That’s a steep price to pay, but Gray is one of the best, young controllable starting pitchers in the game.
Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi played a pivotal role at last year’s deadline to acquire Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from his former organization, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see these two teams match up again in the coming days.
Whether the Dodgers complete a trade for Gray remains to be seen, but it’s clear the front office is seeking impact players this time around to help push themselves to their first World Series since 1988.