When the New York Mets traded for back-end starter Joey Lucchesi last week, many assumed the team was done trying to acquire premium pitching talent. Yet, in the following days, word has spread that the Mets are not only refocusing their efforts on signing Trevor Bauer, but potentially trading for fellow Cincinnati Reds ace Sonny Gray. Both men are top of the rotation stars who would be perfect compliments behind Jacob deGrom.
The Late Bloomer
Bauer, 30, had a somewhat rocky start to his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians. In his first six seasons, he failed to post a sub-4 ERA or a WHIP below 1.300 even once. He also struggled greatly with control issues early on. From 2015-2017, Bauer gave up at least 20 home runs each season and led the league with 79 walks in 2015. While he had great durability, decent peripherals and some stretches of brilliance, Bauer was overall pretty average.
All of that changed in his breakout 2018 season. With a 2.21 ERA, 196 ERA+ and a 1.089 WHIP, Bauer was like a new pitcher. Most of this can be attributed to discovering better control of his pitches. That year, he allowed just nine home runs, 57 walks and finished with 11.3 K/9. He ultimately earned his first All-Star appearance, a sixth-place finish in AL Cy Young voting and some down-ballot MVP votes.
Though he had an uneven 2019 season, Bauer returned to form in his NL Cy Young winning 2020 season. Leading the league in ERA (1.73), ERA+ (276) and WHIP (0.795), as well as posting a career-high 12.3 K/9, the 29-year-old established himself as one of the top pitchers in baseball. Though it’s debatable whether his larger than life personality and outspoken media presence can gel with the New York media, his on-field performance should speak for itself.
The Small Market Star
Gray, 31, had a much smoother start to his career. Aside from an injury plagued 2016, Gray was dominant for the Oakland Athletics. In parts of five seasons with the team, he owned a 3.42 ERA, 114 ERA+ and 1.200 WHIP. He was particularly impressive in 2015, when he owned a 2.73 ERA and threw two complete game shutouts. For his efforts, Gray earned his first All-Star appearance and finished third in AL Cy Young voting.
Things started to get worrisome after Gray was sent to the New York Yankees at the 2017 trade deadline. Though his numbers were only marginally worse down the stretch, his 2018 season was a complete disaster. With 4.90 ERA and career worsts in WHIP (1.496) and BB/9 (3.9), Gray was promptly traded to the Reds that winter.
Many attribute Gray’s struggles to his inability to deal with pitching in a big market like New York. While that may be the case, there is another possible explanation, namely the Yankees’ breaking ball heavy philosophy. Gray was suddenly throwing his 4-seam fastball at the lowest rate of his career. Meanwhile, his curveball and sinker were being used more than ever. Though Gray claims the main culprit was his slider, the numbers show he actually threw it less than usual and was throwing it to the usual locations.
The silver lining here is that once Gray was traded to the Reds he returned to usual greatness. 2019 was arguably the best season of his career, featuring a 2.87 ERA, 162 ERA+, 1.084 WHIP, and a then career-high 10.5 K/9. He was again an All-Star and finished seventh in AL Cy Young voting. Though he wasn’t as sharp in 2020, he did manage to increase his K/9 to 11.6, making him a much bigger threat on the mound than years past.
As with everything, this decision will likely come down to the price. Bauer is reportedly looking for a deal with a $30 million AAV. Such a figure would immediately put the Mets over the $210 million luxury tax threshold. Furthermore, it is unclear if Bauer is still looking for a one-year deal or if he is now open to a long-term option instead.
Gray is a bit more complicated. On one hand, he is only due $10 million in 2021 and 2022, with a $12 million option for 2023. On the other, a trade for him will likely require several prospects from the Mets. Having already traded away three high-valued minor leaguers this winter, Sandy Alderson may be apprehensive to deal away more. Still, after Yu Darvish was acquired by the Padres for several mediocre prospects, the Mets may be able to pull off a similar steal. If that’s the case, Gray might just find himself in New York once again.
Featured Image Courtesy of Cincinnati Reds Twitter
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