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  • What Could a Sonny Gray Extension Look Like for Minnesota?


    Ted Schwerzler

    The Minnesota Twins needed to acquire starting pitching this offseason and largely overlooked the free agent market. In making a deal with the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota landed a guy in Sonny Gray that they hoped would be an ace. So far it’s looked like a perfect fit. How do they keep him moving forward?

    Image courtesy of Lindsey Wasson-USA TODAY Sports

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    Pitching this season at 32, Sonny Gray is putting up among the best seasons of his 10-year big league career. Gray is in the final year of a four-year deal but carries a team option for 2023 at $12 million. Given his abilities and relative health, that should be a no-brainer to exercise for Minnesota.

    Gray has spent a couple of stints on the injured list this season, but he’s still made nine starts to the tune of a 2.53 ERA with a 9.7 K/9. Gray has never had a lower walk rate during his career, and this is as infrequent as he’s ever been allowing the longball. Having pitched recently in parks like Cincinnati and New York, finding a better fit in Minnesota has to have felt wonderful.

    On the process side of things, it appears Gray is learning to use somewhat of a different repertoire with the Twins. His fastball velocity is down to 92.1 mph, a career low, but he’s upped his slider usage and paired both with a solid curveball. Gray is experiencing a career best chase rate and he’s largely worked around damage.

    Nine games is far too small of a sample size to suggest Gray is going to continue this output for the rest of the season, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for a longer term marriage with the Twins if he wants to explore that. Looking at 34 following the team option, Gray’s likelihood for a long-term deal on the open market decreases substantially. Should he choose to lock something up now, a four year deal with Minnesota, tacking on an additional three, would potentially take him through the end of his career.

    Right now Gray is slated to make $12 million from Minnesota in 2023 if they so choose. Over the course of his current deal Gray has averaged $9.5 million annually. A season ago this Twins front office paid a 38-year-old J.A. Happ $8 million to top out their free agent pitching, and this season Dylan Bundy was given $5 million coming off a 6.06 ERA in 2021.

    I don’t know if the Twins need to go to $12 million annually on an extension, but that hardly seems egregious either. A 29-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez was paid $15.4 million over five years by the Detroit Tigers this offseason, and a 30-year-old Jon Gray got $14 million over four years from the Texas Rangers. Gray is arguably the better pitcher among that group, but he’s also roughly three years their senior.

    Both Steven Matz and Yusei Kikuchi got multi-year deals at $11 and $12 million annually respectively, but they too are roughly two years younger than that of Gray. Tyler Anderson is 32 years old and got $8 million from the Dodgers, but only on a one-year pact. There are plenty of guys in that age range that saw similar paydays with no guarantee of longevity. I think for Minnesota, and Gray, the duration may be a worthwhile tradeoff.

    For Minnesota, I think landing somewhere between Kikuchi and Matz over four years (starting in 2023) would be a worthwhile premise. That’d put Gray at between $11-12 million annually and $44-48 million over the course of his contract. Paying him that sum through age 36 seems to avoid much of the risk as he surpasses that age as well. As a guy who’s not velocity reliant and is very meticulous about his training regimen, there should be an ample amount of belief that he ages gracefully.

    Maybe the Twins ultimately don’t want to commit to Gray for the long term and they’re happy with him just being around in 2023. If not, these parameters seem like a good place to start. What do you think, are you paying $44-48 million for four more years of Sonny Gray?

     

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    Even if Gray is your #5 starter in 2026, $12M for one year is not a problem at all.  I think having a veteran around to mentor Ryan, Ober, Winder, Smeltzer, Varland, et al is a very good move to make, especially if it will cost you less than $50M in the next 4 years.  If Gray is willing to sign on for 4 more years at $48M, you do that immediately.  If you’re that worried about the 2026 season, make it 3/$39 with a $15M option in 2026, with a $3M buyout.

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    It depends on his success/health over the span of this year/next year (the Twins will almost certainly pickup his option). It would likely be a 3-4 year extension, and unless it’s in the $9-13m/year range the Twins might pass.
     

    Along with that, Gray might not even be needed. The Twins have Ryan and Ober for years, along with SWR, Canterino, Winder, Balazovic, Henriquez, and Varland all looking to have a future place in the rotation (and that’s just guys due up in the next 2 years)

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    By 2023 when Gray’s contract ends, they will have Ryan, Winder, Ober, Smeltzer, Paddack, and Dobnak.  It’s also reasonable to believe a couple of Balazovic / Canterino, SWR, and Varland will be ready for the ML level.  Dobnak goes to the BP or gets traded and the others will provide depth at first and eventually take full-time spots.  They should also have a couple others knocking on the door between Raya, SGL, Festa, Povich, Hajja, Heterick and Medina.  So, it makes absolutely no sense for them to extend him at this moment.

    I would much rather they take a hard run at Musgrove / Taillon / Rodon next year and have one of them plus Gray and Ryan at the top of the rotation.  If they don't sign any of those FAs and none of the prospects pan out, they can resign Gray at the end of 2023.  Doing this would also allow them to put Maeda in the BP next year or trade him. 

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    There are solid arguments for both sides.  $12 million per year even for a back end (#3-4-5) veteran starter who is dependable and can be counted on for a level of innings and production per season is decent value.  The counter argument is what the Twins have in the pipeline.  If the cupboard was bare, I'd pony the money up NOW.  But the cupboard is hardly bare.

    So that brings us to a couple of modern day baseball axioms.  Since nobody pitches 300 innings anymore and almost no one pitches even 200 innings, and you can't count on having 5 starters make 30-35 starts for you in season...Signing Gray now for $11-$12 million for 4 years or $13 million for 3-years makes sense.  Some of the Twins pitching prospects will pan out.  Unfortunately, some will not.  And each year the draft will put a few more into the pipeline.

    There is also the potential to add a Montas/Castillo type at the trade deadline and/or add a Musgrove/Rodon/Taillon next year and of course Kenta Maeda isn't dead and buried, he's very much alive and working to get back.  I'm not anxious to summarily move a guy to the bullpen who finished #2 in A.L. Cy Young voting in 2020.  For me, he's a SP until he pitches himself OUT of the rotation.  

    The idea is to build a staff that has a blend of youth and experience and that has depth from which you can fill holes as bumps in the road occur and trade from said depth if an opportunity presents itself.  $11-$13 million per year for a solid SP is worth more to a team than having a Miguel Sano.  "You can never have too much pitching."  

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    I think Gray is one of those pitchers that is going to be around for a while but I wouldn't ever plan on him being healthy for a full season.  He really knows how to pitch and like Grienke will find ways to get guys out well into his 30's.  That being said I don't know that I would be in a hurry to extend him.  Certainly I would wait and see how this whole season pans out and if he remains consistent and fairly healthy then approach him with an extension.  Given his age I would think there is a good chance he would take it.  I know we have young guys coming up but you can never have too much good pitching and if for some reason you do it is the gold standard for trades so it can help in other ways as well.

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    1 hour ago, Major League Ready said:

    By 2023 when Gray’s contract ends, they will have Ryan, Winder, Ober, Smeltzer, Paddack, and Dobnak.  It’s also reasonable to believe a couple of Balazovic / Canterino, SWR, and Varland will be ready for the ML level.  Dobnak goes to the BP or gets traded and the others will provide depth at first and eventually take full-time spots.  They should also have a couple others knocking on the door between Raya, SGL, Festa, Povich, Hajja, Heterick and Medina.  So, it makes absolutely no sense for them to extend him at this moment.

    I would much rather they take a hard run at Musgrove / Taillon / Rodon next year and have one of them plus Gray and Ryan at the top of the rotation.  If they don't sign any of those FAs and none of the prospects pan out, they can resign Gray at the end of 2023.  Doing this would also allow them to put Maeda in the BP next year or trade him. 

    Don't forget Maeda

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    I would agree the contract would most likely look like what the article writes, but I also would not extend him now.  Pick up his option, if he maintains into next year then look to extend 2 to 3 years if he wants.  Sonny Gray has struck me as a guy that is not seeking the top contract but where he plays is important.  I think he brings more to the team than just a pitch though, as he has been around and seems to have helped some of the younger guys.  I still would not want to dole out a rotation spot and big money for a guy that at any point could fall off the cliff.  Now, I doubt he will because he has never been a high velo guy but has been a true pitcher so I expect he will age well, but you still never know. 

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    I would wait until the end of this season and evaluate the whole scene then. As several have pointed out we have many young guns that are coming up through the system. Which seems to me would be good trade chips for some help now. How many of these youngsters are going to have to be exposed to the rule 5 draft this winter? I'd be looking at that now and thinking about some trades for at the very least some bullen help. Another quality starter would sure be nice.

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    If they can sign him for a team friendly 2-3 year contract extension they should do it.  He’s got a bulldog mentality that I like. And Rocco will even let him throw 100 pitches and face the lineup a third time. Go figure! 

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    Very true the Twins have a lot of intriguing arms coming up.  Also very true that probably half or more of them will be ineffective at the ML level or get switched to the bullpen (after all, up until this year Duran was one of our 3 best SP prospects).  Additionally, very true that in modern baseball, you will need more than 5 or even 6 starters.  You'll need at minimum 7 or 8 MLB caliber starters every single year; the Twins have already used at least 9 this year, and we're not even halfway through the season (Gray, Ryan, Ober, Paddack, Archer, Bundy, Winder, Smeltzer, and Gonzalez).

    Because of that, unless you want to try and churn out 3 new MLB caliber starters every single year from your MiLB system, every organization will have to pay arb or FA money to starters.  Even if you could get 2 new MLB caliber starters every year, you'll still need 2-4 starters on arb or FA deals.  As such, I'd rather invest $12M a year in a Sonny Gray than have to take fliers every single year on Happs, Shoemakers, Bundys, and Archers.  Sometimes it will work, but when it doesn't, it's going to be a problem.

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    If we are doing the extension now I think it’s pick up the option and add a guaranteed season and then add an option.  That guarantees him 2.5 seasons with an option for another year.  So maybe 12 million. 14 million with 15 million option with 2 million buyout.  

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    I would *maybe* offer him two additional years if he finishes the season decently, giving him three guaranteed years.

    Any more than that, hard pass. Gray is a really nice pitcher today but not the kind of pitcher I bet on for a long-term contract.

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    Maybe 3 for 33mil? With his injury history and age, it seems risky to give him more. At 11mil a season, he's not going to hurt you too much if he can only pitch 80-100 innings.

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    4 hours ago, Karbo said:

    Don't forget Maeda

    Maeda is an unrestricted free agent after next year as is Gray.

    As of right now next year's rotation is Gray, Ryan and Smelter.

    Bundy has a million dollar buyout or a 11 million dollar salary.

    Archer has a mutual 750k buyout or 10 million dollar salary.

    Ober hasn't pitched in two months and has few weeks of rehab before pitching with the Twins again. He should come back and do well but as of today can you plan on it?

    Winder has 29.1 major league innings and should improve going forward but again as of today can you really plan on it?

    Maeda is still coming back from injury and has to prove he still has it and is healthy.

    Paddock, I am not even sure when he is due back.

    And as far as I can tell no minor league pitcher (at this point) has really done enough to be called soon and establish himself as a legit starter for next year.

    With that said I don't think now is the time to extend Gray, unless he saying he wants a year or two extension or he will be demanding a trade or something along those lines, plus the Twins need to figure out if Ober and Winder are legit major league starters that won't spend most of the year(s) on the DL.

    Now the other side of the argument could be if you could lock Gray up for 3 years at a reasonable price, Ober or Winder and a prospect or 2/3 could be used to bring in a starter with some control for another team.

     

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    I think it's awfully tough to predict how veteran contracts are going to be impacted by the new CBA. A lot of money just got funneled to the younger guys and it will impact the veteran contracts. There's only "x" amount of money owners are going to spend.

    Aside from that, I utterly fail to see how this happens...
    Jose Berrios 7yrs $131 MM
    Marcus Stroman 3yrs $71 MM
    They were extremely similar comps. Ironically, they're both struggling this year.

    I'll hazard a guess on Sonny Gray. An extension voiding the option = 3yrs $65 MM. I certainly wouldn't want to offer it to him. Gray's velocity continues to slide and he's seeing what seems to be a trend of allowing more fly balls. Extending Gray feels very, very much like Phil Hughes right now to me.

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