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?