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.