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Twins Extension Candidate: Sonny Gray


Cody Christie
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Many consider Sonny Gray the Twins' best pitcher, so what will it cost to keep him in Minnesota? Does a long-term extension make sense for both parties?

Image courtesy of Lon Horwedel, USA Today Sports

Minnesota has multiple items on its offseason checklist, including finding a shortstop, upgrading the offense, and adding to the bullpen. It's also the time of year when teams can approach players about long-term extensions. The Twins have kept their payroll clean for multiple years into the future, and now is the time to capitalize on the organization's flexibility.  

2022 Recap: Minnesota traded for Sonny Gray and Francis Peguero during the last offseason by parting with their 2021 first-round pick, Chase Petty. At the time, it was easy to see the logic from the Twins' perspective. Petty was multiple years away from impacting the big-league level, and high school arms are never a guarantee. Gray was an established veteran with multiple years of team control. Minnesota's winning window was still open, and Gray helped solidify the top of the rotation.

Gray's first season in Minnesota didn't go perfectly, but he was near the top of the team in multiple pitching categories. In 24 starts, he posted a 3.08 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP and a 117-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Some minor injuries hampered him at different points and limited him to his fewest number of starts since 2016 outside of the COVID shortened campaign. His improved on field performance might be related to changes instituted after he joined the Twins organization. 

For the first time in three seasons, Gray's four-seam fastball was his most utilized pitch. In 2021, he used his sinker nearly 30% of the time, while his curveball was his most utilized pitch in the shortened 2020 season. During the 2022 season, he utilized all three pitches over 24% of the time. Batters posted a wOBA above .300 when facing his four-seamer and sinker, but his curveball resulted in a .232 wOBA and a 25 Whiff%. All three of his top pitches resulted in a negative run value for opponents for the first time since 2019. 

Current Contract: Gray's current contract was completed as part of his trade to the Reds from the Yankees. With Minnesota exercising the final option year, the contract's total value will be five years and $50.7 million. He has never reached free agency even though he has ten years in the big leagues as part of four organizations. He's made over $60 million in his career, and next off-season will be his first chance to hit the free agent market.

Contract Proposal: The 2023 season may add clarity for the Twins to decide if they want to try and extend Gray. Minnesota is likely fine paying the 33-year-old an annual salary of around $12 million if he continues to perform. Last winter, Steven Matz signed for four years and $44 million, while Yusei Kikuchi inked a three-year, $36 million deal. Both those pitchers are younger than Gray, but his track record is better. Gray and the Twins will have to find a middle ground that balances his age and the length of the contract. 

As baseball moves further from the pandemic, player contracts will start rising again because of a revenue influx. Paying $12-14 million per season for an aging Gray isn't the worst proposition, especially as $100 million contracts are handed out to the top-tier starters. Gray also might be more willing to stay in Minnesota depending on what the club adds during the rest of this off-season. He also voiced some frustration last season about not going deeper into games, but starting pitcher usage continues to evolve. 

Does a three-year, $40 million contract keep Gray in Minnesota, or will it cost more than that? How high would you be willing to go for a starter entering their mid-30s? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. 

 


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Having stability in the starting rotation is not a bad thing. Do we really want to be facing a '23 off season of possible 3/5 of our rotation going to free agency at the same time. I'm thinking that keeping Gray, Mahle and Maeda in the rotation at least through '24 would be better than a return of dumpster diving. I'm not sure about Paddocks status. I would think that including his current year, add 2-3 more years to it for a for a total of 3/4 years at 44-60mil is not unreasonable considering the alternatives. Even that may not be enough.

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38 minutes ago, adorduan said:

After the way he was used, i doubt he has any interest in signing an extension. There will be plenty of other teams that will be interested in his services.

All due respect, somebody really needs to write an article debunking this usage thing.  He was used this way for the three years prior to coming to the Twins, he was extremely successful and protected in his current role.  HIs next team is going to use him the same way.  Why change it?

That being said, I would look to extend him, something in the 2y/$28m range with a 1y/$15 team option that kicks in based starts made over that time.

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I wouldn't extend him. He hasn't been anything close to reliable health-wise for years now. He's not getting younger. Play out this year and give him a qualifying offer for 2024 while you discuss another short-term deal with him then. I'm not interested in paying for multiple years for a guy who's topped 160 innings twice since 2015 (and 1 of those was 162 innings in 2017).

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Gray’s complaints about how he was used are empty & ridiculous. He’s been hurt part of nearly every year for 8 years. Hip along with various arm issues make him the poster child for limited innings. He’s got to hear that with whatever club he’s with, not just pitching for Rocco! I live & watched in Cincinnati, same with TWINS, 7-10 weeks pitching then 2-3 weeks on IL.

That said, I like him - his competitive streak - his stuff!! I think offering $45 million for 3 years would be a nice offer for him & reasonable for the Twins. He would be taking on great risk not to extend prior to this year at that $ level.

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IMO, why pay any pitcher that you don't except to at least the 6th in most of his starts anything over 10 million. If the team feels a pitcher is limited to 90 pitches and just over 18 guys a game he isn't worth that kind of money. I think the Twins have proven with Ober, Winder, Varland and others if you are going to limit a pitcher to twice though the lineup or so, it can be done with younger cheaper guys.

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I like Gray. I think Mahle is the most important extension option. He is a lot younger, and I THINK, more talented. But, if they can keep Gray around for more of a 2 or 3 year deal, I'd be all for it. Hopefully Mahle gets a contract similar to what Berrios received.

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Question.  You begin talking about the Twins needs.  Yet, you fail to mention catcher which I maintain is their greatest need, perhaps three catchers needed.

There are three veteran starters who all should be considered for extensions.  What the pecking order is for that group is hidden in the minds of those who make these decisions.  Timing is also a question.  Do they talk to one or more this winter?  Or do they wait until spring training to get a feel for their respective health?

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Gray stated he would like the opportunity to pitch later in to games. They let him. It didn't go well. His response was (slight paraphrasing) "I appreciated the opportunity. But I need to throw better". He never burst out, got angry, said anything bad about anyone. He simply voiced what he'd like to see happen. And actually, later in the season, the Twins did start to throw guys a little longer.

His lack of 160IP + ability worries me. But I sure like what he brings to the clubhouse and to the mound when he is healthy. I'm thinking 2 and $28-30? Maybe a 3rd year with an option thrown in for around $12-13 with a couple $M buyout?

A healthy Mahle is probably the better pitcher going forward. But I wouldn't mind seeing Gray stick around a couple more years.

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5 hours ago, DJL44 said:

He should get a Qualifying Offer of around $20M if he finishes the season healthy. That's not too much to pay for one season.

There is little incentive for the Twins to give him an extension right now or for Gray to accept. That decision will happen in the next offseason.

I agree. That would be 2 years (2023 and 2024) at around $32m. I can see a deal at 3 years, $36-$40m kicking in at 2023.    

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I agree that its hard to give a lot of money to a 5 inning starter unless the guy is total lights out. The question I have is the limited innings on Gray because of his ability to get guys out 3rd and 4th time through, or is it on management following some sort of plan for all starters? If its the former it decreases his value, if its the latter we better get used to seeing younger, unproven starters or older guys in our rotation. The top dogs have an ego to fill and that isn't going 5 and fly!

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I understand Gray’s frustration. Baldelli doesn’t trust his starters to pitch to the the lineup a third time because that’s what the computer algorithm says. Imagine a modern day Bob Gibson or Jack Morris being pulled before facing the lineup for the third time! Money talks but I if Gray leaves after this years it will be because of Baldelli’s slavish devotion to analytics, to the detriment of managing people.

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Can we stop with this "3 times through the order" narrative on Gray. That isn't why he was getting short starts.

Spring training started late for everyone in 2022 cuz of the lockout. Sonny Gray's got started even later because of the trade. So his first start was a little shorter (4.2 innings) as he was still building up from not having a full ST. He was hurt in his second start (April 16th) and placed on the IL.

He returned from the IL to make a start on May 7th. So now he's had a shortened ST, and was hurt in his second start of the year. So his next 2 starts were shorter (4 and 4.1 innings) as he built back up from the short ST and IL stint. After those 2 starts he went 6 innings, 7 innings, 6 innings on May 18, 24, 29. He was then placed back on the IL because he was hurt AGAIN. So 3 of 7 starts after a shortened ST and with an IL stint in the middle went at least 6 innings and he had to go on the IL again.

He returned on June 15th and his first 2 starts were again a little shortened. The first one was 5 innings, likely to help build him back up again. The 2nd start back was 4 innings cuz he wasn't good (4 runs, 3 earned through 4). His 3rd start back went 7 innings. He was bad in his next 3 starts so didn't go deep. Then went 5 or 6 innings in starts when he was good for most of the rest of the year. It was during this stretch that the infamous comment was made about wanting to go deeper in starts. There are definitely some games in there that it was Rocco/the FO putting unnecessary constraints on him, but the idea that they had a "3rd time through the lineup" rule for Sonny simply isn't accurate. Oh, and he ended the year on the IL again after having gone 6 innings Sept 8th, and 7 innings on the 14th. He was then brutal on the 19th and hit the IL to end the year.

Sonny Gray is not a workhorse. Sonny Gray hasn't been a workhorse since his 2nd year in the majors. The Twins aren't flexible enough with their starters, in my opinion. But the "3rd time through the lineup" rule was for rookies, a less than stellar veteran (Bundy), and a coming off injury veteran who could never build his stamina (Archer). The idea that Sonny should be, or is, mad about his usage because they wouldn't let him face a lineup a 3rd time is simply false. They tried to let him and he kept getting hurt.

Sonny Gray is not a workhorse. He wasn't his last 1.5 seasons in Oakland. He wasn't with NY. He wasn't in Cinci. He wasn't with the Twins. The Twins need to revamp their pitching strategy, but stop acting like Sonny Gray is some 200 IP per year guy. He isn't. He hasn't even gotten close since 2015. He's only made 30 starts in a season once since 2015, and only threw 175.1 innings that year (That's less than 6 innings/start for those keeping track). So even the season he didn't end up on the IL for multiple stretches he wasn't throwing high innings/start. He simply isn't the guy you want him to be.

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I would not consider extending Gray in the three year range.

  • He is very likely to decline by age 35.
  • He has more trade value at the deadline with an expiring contract.
  • If he has a good year the Twins can make a qualifying offer and end up with a one year deal or a pick in the draft.
  • We haven’t even started the three year part. He could get a significant injury this year after signing an extension.

Gray just doesn’t have enough space to decline and remain a good option to start a playoff game. Extending Gray comes with much more risk than reward.

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True that and it points out an issue that the Twins have to deal with. Who is that workhorse? 150 innings a year is the best we can realistically hope for from Sonny Gray and we will probably get less. Same is true for a Maeda coming off injury, Ober coming off a shortened season due to injury, Mahle coming off shoulder issues, and Winder's track record suggests he won't last more than 125 if he's a starter. That leaves Joe Ryan who I think can give us 160-175 innings in the projected starting 5. 

So maybe we don't "need" a workhorse and maybe baseball has gotten away from that model. It would be great to have one but most teams don't. So what do you do? You fill the AAA rotation with guys who can start when the inevitable need arises. We actually have some depth with Varland, SWR, and even Dobnak (remember him?) but not enough. Not enough; we need more.     

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1 hour ago, chpettit19 said:

Can we stop with this "3 times through the order" narrative on Gray. That isn't why he was getting short starts.

Spring training started late for everyone in 2022 cuz of the lockout. Sonny Gray's got started even later because of the trade. So his first start was a little shorter (4.2 innings) as he was still building up from not having a full ST. He was hurt in his second start (April 16th) and placed on the IL.

He returned from the IL to make a start on May 7th. So now he's had a shortened ST, and was hurt in his second start of the year. So his next 2 starts were shorter (4 and 4.1 innings) as he built back up from the short ST and IL stint. After those 2 starts he went 6 innings, 7 innings, 6 innings on May 18, 24, 29. He was then placed back on the IL because he was hurt AGAIN. So 3 of 7 starts after a shortened ST and with an IL stint in the middle went at least 6 innings and he had to go on the IL again.

He returned on June 15th and his first 2 starts were again a little shortened. The first one was 5 innings, likely to help build him back up again. The 2nd start back was 4 innings cuz he wasn't good (4 runs, 3 earned through 4). His 3rd start back went 7 innings. He was bad in his next 3 starts so didn't go deep. Then went 5 or 6 innings in starts when he was good for most of the rest of the year. It was during this stretch that the infamous comment was made about wanting to go deeper in starts. There are definitely some games in there that it was Rocco/the FO putting unnecessary constraints on him, but the idea that they had a "3rd time through the lineup" rule for Sonny simply isn't accurate. Oh, and he ended the year on the IL again after having gone 6 innings Sept 8th, and 7 innings on the 14th. He was then brutal on the 19th and hit the IL to end the year.

Sonny Gray is not a workhorse. Sonny Gray hasn't been a workhorse since his 2nd year in the majors. The Twins aren't flexible enough with their starters, in my opinion. But the "3rd time through the lineup" rule was for rookies, a less than stellar veteran (Bundy), and a coming off injury veteran who could never build his stamina (Archer). The idea that Sonny should be, or is, mad about his usage because they wouldn't let him face a lineup a 3rd time is simply false. They tried to let him and he kept getting hurt.

Sonny Gray is not a workhorse. He wasn't his last 1.5 seasons in Oakland. He wasn't with NY. He wasn't in Cinci. He wasn't with the Twins. The Twins need to revamp their pitching strategy, but stop acting like Sonny Gray is some 200 IP per year guy. He isn't. He hasn't even gotten close since 2015. He's only made 30 starts in a season once since 2015, and only threw 175.1 innings that year (That's less than 6 innings/start for those keeping track). So even the season he didn't end up on the IL for multiple stretches he wasn't throwing high innings/start. He simply isn't the guy you want him to be.

Everything you say here is true.  But all of the advanced metrics also support the "third time through the lineup" concerns with Gray as well.  The reality is that it is probably a combination of both.

Bottom line, there is no reason to expect Gray will ever be an innings eater.

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If he is healthy and has a good season. I would  probably give him a 4 or 5 year deal. In the range of 14 to 15 million a year. Maybe a small signing bonus. They may think of having an opt out clause after two years to protect the team  if he has injuries.

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