With the All-Star break right around the corner, and with the trade deadline fast approaching, the New York Yankees (59-29) are doing their due diligence as they look to upgrade their starting rotation to keep pace with the Boston Red Sox (61-29). As Sonny Gray continues to struggle for the Yankees, the importance of adding another starting pitcher becomes not only a top priority but a necessity.
Sonny Gray Continues to Struggle for the New York Yankees
Gray had his shortest outing of the season and the second shortest of his career this past Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays. The former Oakland A’s ace lasted only two innings while giving up five earned runs on six hits. After this latest lackluster performance, Gray saw his ERA go from 5.44 to 5.85 in a blink of an eye. Before this poor performance against the Blue Jays, Gray boasted a 1.88 ERA at the Rogers Centre in seven starts. The loss to Toronto caused the Yankees to drop two games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. The good news is they are at least tied with Boston in the loss column.
Last Saturday, Gray was pounded by the Red Sox for six runs in 2.1 innings pitched. In his last two starts, Gray has given up 11 earned runs on 13 hits while allowing 18 base-runners in just over four innings. In Gray’s previous five starts prior to facing Boston, he was 3-2 with a 3.23 ERA while walking six and striking out 29 in 30.2 innings.
For the season, Gray is 5-7 with a 5.85 ERA. Gray has been credited with seven of New York’s 29 losses which is a startling trend this season. The former first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics in the 2011 MLB Draft has as many losses as Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka combined.
As a Yankee, Gray is 9-14 with a 4.79 ERA, and as of right now, holds the Yankees record for the highest ERA (7.00) at Yankee Stadium (with a minimum of 12 starts), ahead of Carl Pavano. In his last three starts, Gray is 0-3 with a 12.27 ERA but there does not appear to be anything wrong with him physically.
Gray is having his worst season since 2016 when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics. That season saw Gray go 5-11 (22 games started) with a 5.69 ERA while giving up 80 runs, 74 earned runs, and 18 home runs with 133 hits in 117.0 innings, and opponents batted .286 off him. Gray is 20-30 overall since 2016 with a 5.03 ERA.
Aaron Boone Will Stick With Sonny Gray… For Now
It does appear that Sonny Gray will indeed make his next scheduled start against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. Additionally, it seems unlikely that the Yankees would remove Gray from the starting rotation prior to the All-Star break.
Gray’s ERA (5.85) is the third worst in baseball among starters with a minimum of 80.0 innings pitched. Part of Gray’s problem is his erratic command which leads to leaving a lot of off-speed pitches over the plate. Even when Gray does get ahead in the count, he lacks that go to pitch in order to get batters out.
“I am concerned, but we also believe in the stuff,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Gray according to ESPN. “We’ve got to try and help him right the ship a little bit.”
Before the Yankees and Boone can consider removing him from the rotation in favor of the bullpen, New York needs someone they can insert into the starting rotation, which at the moment is looking bleak. One player who worked himself into the conversation was Jonathan Loaisiga who showed a lot of potential and promise in his four starts this season.
Possible Replacements for the Starting Rotation
Loaisiga was unfortunately forced to undergo an MRI exam on his right shoulder this past Friday and is also scheduled to see Dr. Chris Ahmad on Monday. The young Nicaraguan missed all of 2014 and 2015 due to problems with his right shoulder.
The 23-year-old right-hander was originally signed by the San Francisco Giants as an international free agent in 2012 but was ultimately released in May of 2015 before being signed by the Yankees in 2016. In four starts this season, Loaisiga is 2-0 with an ERA of 3.00, while striking out 21 batters in 18.0 innings pitched. He gave up 15 hits, six runs, and six earned runs, with a 1.28 WHIP while holding opponents to a .227 batting average.
Luis Cessa, 26-years old, has had multiple opportunities to show the Yankees brass that he can be a starter in the big leagues ever since New York acquired him from the Detroit Tigers in December of 2015. During his time with the Pinstripes, Cessa has gone 4-8 with an ERA of 4.53 in 32 games (15 games started). In 115.1 innings pitched, the Mexican born player has allowed 62 runs (58 earned runs) on 108 hits and 24 home runs.
Justus Sheffield, 22-years old, is currently the No. 1 ranked prospect in the Yankees system, and he was recently added to the roster for the Future Game. However, the Yankees front office, as well as their scouts believe that the left-handed pitcher could use more seasoning at Double-A and Triple-A. In 15 games (14 games started) between Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the young left-hander is 3-5 with a 2.94 ERA.
Sheffield has given up 26 runs (22 earned runs) on 54 hits in 79.2 innings pitched, while walking 36 batters and striking out 88. Sheffield is by far the Yankees best pitching prospect, and if he continues to develop, then there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a September call-up.
Pitchers the New York Yankees are Targeting at the Trade Deadline
The Yankees will be watching Gray very closely in hopes that he can turn his season around. Boone, who was against a personal catcher for Gray, eventually gave in when he had Austin Romine become Gray’s personal catcher. However, that is unlikely to continue when Gary Sanchez returns from the DL. If the Bronx Bombers are able to acquire a starting pitcher at the Trade Deadline, then Gray’s time in the starting rotation may soon be coming to an end. After all, the Yankees cannot start Gray in a playoff series for fear he will implode.
J.A. Happ, 34-years old, is the clear front-runner to be acquired by the New York Yankees prior to July 31. Happ (10-4, 4.03 ERA) can clearly help the Yankees starting rotation during the regular season, but whether or not he could help them in the postseason is something that remains to be seen. Given that Happ is essentially a one-year rental, it makes it harder for the Blue Jays to demand a top-level prospect. The best Toronto could do is several mid-tier players.
Michael Fulmer, 25-years old, would definitely be harder for the Yankees to acquire given his age and the multiple years of control left. It would take more than mid-tier players for the Yankees to acquire Fulmer. In fact, the Yankees might have to part with some of their better prospects, but it could be worth it in the long-run.
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