As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes in his Sunday notes, the Athletics have been scouting the Astros’ minor-league system and the two teams have “mutual interest” in a deal for A’s starter Sonny Gray.
Gray, 27, could provide a lift to an Astros rotation that is one of the best in baseball when healthy but has dealt with a multitude of injuries recently and faces health concerns going forward. Four members’ of the team’s projected rotation — Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Charlie Morton, and Collin McHugh — are currently on the disabled list, and Joe Musgrove also spent time on the DL earlier this month.
The Astros have two rookies, David Paulino and Francis Martes, in their rotation right now, and while the group they’ve got has carried them to an AL-best 46-24 record, they’re almost certainly going to need more starting depth for the stretch run. That’s where Gray, who was an All-Star and finished third in AL Cy Young voting in 2015, could fit in.
Gray’s value would seem to be relatively low at this point, so perhaps it would be an opportunity for the Astros to buy low. He has a 5.30 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP in 31 starts since the beginning of 2016, and he’s averaged just 5.47 innings per start over that span, compared to the 6.67 per start he averaged from 2014-15. Any team that trades for him will be placing their faith in metrics like FIP and BABIP that indicate he’s been rather unlucky over the past two seasons.
Since Gray is under club control through the 2019 season, the A’s would likely be able to command established major-league players in trade talks, but Houston could certainly assemble a worthwhile package of prospects as well. They’ve got six players ranked among MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects, headlined by Martes, who is ranked as the No. 15 overall prospect and third-best pitching prospect in baseball.
Trading Gray would just be another example of the Athletics giving up on young talent to keep their payroll as low as possible. Since the end of the 2011 season, they’ve traded Gio Gonzalez, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, and Derek Norris for cheaper, less-experienced players despite the fact that all four were coming off All-Star seasons and had multiple years of club control remaining. Granted, Gray is multiple years removed from his standout 2015 campaign, but he still offers the most upside among their current starters, and trading him would almost certainly decrease Oakland’s ability to contend in the near future.