Trade rumors continue to swirl around the Milwaukee Brewers, who have maintained their 5.5 game lead in the NL Central by winning their first two games following the All-Star break. The Brewers were reportedly aggressive in their pursuit of Jose Quintana before he wound up being dealt to the Cubs, and it now sounds as though they have turned their attention to the other top arm available on the trade market.
According to a report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, David Stearns and the Brewers have “shown the most interest” in right-handed starter Sonny Gray of the Oakland Athletics. Cafardo says that Gray “could be the next big name to move before the trade deadline” and that Milwaukee has the prospects to make deal happen.
The Brewers do indeed have one of the top farm systems in the MLB and could certainly put an enticing package together for Gray, if they so desire. Outfielder Lewis Brinson is considered to be the crown jewel among a group that includes other MLB Pipeline top-100 prospects OF Corey Ray, RHP Luis Ortiz, SS/2B Isan Diaz, and LHP Josh Hader - though given that Hader has become an integral member of the big league bullpen, Stearns may be hesitant to include him as a part of any potential deals.
The Brewers aren’t inclined to make any significant deals for rental players, but Gray fits the mold of the type of player Milwaukee could be open to adding this summer. Young (age-27) and controllable for two seasons beyond this one, Gray is due only the balance of a $3.575 mil salary this season and will make something in the range $20 mil total though arbitration during the 2018-19 seasons before becoming a free agent. He’s also quite familiar with Milwaukee’s pitching coach Derek Johnson, who was his college coach at Vanderbilt.
Gray has rebounded astoundingly well after an injury-plagued 2016 season that saw him post a 5.69 ERA (though a much more palatable 4.11 DRA/91 DRA-) in 117.0 innings. A late start to the year after a suffering a lat strain in spring has limited him to 14 starts. But after firing 6.0 innings of two-hit, shutout baseball in his most recent outing on Friday night, Gray is the owner of a 3.72 ERA through 84.2 innings pitched. His peripherals look even better, as a 3.03 DRA/64 DRA- ranks Gray among the top-20 pitchers in baseball this season. Gray’s fastball velocity has rebounded back to his career norms and he’s boasting the highest swinging-strike rate of his career (11.4%) as well as his best strikeout rate (22.8%) since his rookie season of 2013.
Gray’s addition would be a major shot in the arm to a starting rotation that faces some uncertainty going forward. Jimmy Nelson has pitched like an ace this season and Chase Anderson has performed excellently as well, but Anderson is on the DL with an oblique strain and won’t return until sometime in mid-to-late August. Lefty soft-tosser Brent Suter has pitched well in his absence, but has all of 49.0 MLB innings under his belt. Matt Garza has quietly enjoyed a resurgent season after beginning the season on the disabled list but has proven to be injury prone and his work the previous two seasons leaves cause for skepticism. Neither of the two pillars of last year’s rotation - Junior Guerra and Zach Davies - have performed nearly as well in 2017.
In addition to starting pitching help, it’s previously been reported that Milwaukee is in the market for upgrades to their relief corps, as well. It’s worth noting that the Athletics have two arms in their bullpen - Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson - that could possibly be of interest to the Brewers. That is just this author’s own speculation, though.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs