The Tampa Bay Rays should target Jon Gray

With the Rays looking at rotation options for the 2019 season and beyond, an under the radar option who has huge potential resides in the Rocky Mountains. A former number three overall pick with a wicked slider may just need a change of scenery and the Tampa Bay Rays can offer just that.

Jon Gray, the former number three overall pick of the 2013 draft, is due for a change of scenery and I think Tampa Bay could be just the place. The Tampa Bay Rays are in need of quality starting pitching going forward and Jon Gray could be just the solution if he makes a few adjustments.

I like the thought of trading for Jon Gray for a few reasons. One, he has top of the rotation stuff that just hasn’t really panned out…yet. Two, since his top of the rotation stuff hasn’t necessarily panned out…yet, the asking price will be relatively low should the Rockies decide to move him. Finally, he has three years of control left and for a team that is built around young controllable talent, an improved and successful Gray would fit right in.

The right hander features a three pitch mix but primarily sits, fastball-slider and will occasionally mix in a curveball. Gray throws his fastball and slider, 83.6 percent of the time, sounds like Chris Archer, right? The one major concern I have when trading for Gray is his repertoire’s likeness to Chris Archer’s and the some of the struggles that Chris Archer had in Tampa.

Gray made his debut in 2015, making 9 starts. In 2016, he made 29 starts, throwing 168 innings and striking out 185. He ended the year with a 4.61 ERA but a 3.61 FIP which would lead us to believe that Gray was better than his ERA suggests, not to mention, it was his most valuable year finishing with an fWAR 3.6.

His success in 2016 earned him his first career opening day start the following year. That opening day start would jump start the best year of his career. During his 2017 season, albeit shortened due to injury, Gray would go 10-4 throwing 110.1 innings, striking out 112. Finishing the year with a 3.67 ERA and a 3.18 FIP and 3.2 fWAR.

2018 proved to be his most trying year as he struggled mightily and was even left off the playoff roster. He did go 12-9 and he did throw 172.1 innings while striking out 183, but he did have an ERA north of five…5.12 to be exact. His FIP of 4.08 yet again, points to a better performance than what his earned run average would go to show.

But, in a year where he once again was named the opening day starter, Gray failed to live up to his expectations and was eventually overshadowed by German Marquez and Kyle Freeland.

His most recent campaign may have been writing on the wall for the Colorado Rockies, and their fans. It seems as though the mediocrity that has surrounded Jon Gray’s career may be wearing thin on the Rockies faithful.

This mediocrity is magnified due to the spotlight he was thrown into as the 3rd overall pick and apparent ace of the future. If this were any other pitcher not picked as highly as Gray, we wouldn’t be talking about a trade this early in his career. But for Gray, it appears as though the best thing for him is a change of scenery.

The Rockies may very well hold onto Gray, hoping for an improvement and a return to his 2017 form. But, they also may trade him this winter and get whatever value they can out of the former ace.

This is where the Rays come in. The Rockies need a first baseman, and the Rays have one they are looking to move in favor of an upgrade. C.J. Cron has 2 years of control left and could act as the key piece in a Jon Gray trade.

From the Rays standpoint, they can trade Cron, who they were likely to non-tender, and a minor prospect of two for Gray who offers huge potential upside. This only works, however, if the Rays are confident that they can indeed acquire the upgrade they desire at first.

After a breakout season in Tampa Bay in which he hit a career high 30 bombs, Cron’s powerful swing could translate well to the vast expanses of Coors field. He offers the Rockies a cheap, powerful first baseman who could see a further power surge, once introduced to the thin air of the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t know if a straight up Gray for Cron deal will get it done as the Rockies will likely look to extract a little more value out of their former first rounder, but it is a good starting point.

If I am the Rays, I gain a pitcher with top of the rotation talent and a high upside who I don’t necessarily have to guarantee a rotation spot to start 2019.The Rays might still go out and get a free agent starting pitcher, and if they happen to strike gold with Gray (which isn’t too far fetched) they could be looking at a very talented four man rotation with an open mixed in.

Gray is only projected to make 3.2 million in arbitration, so in essence the Rays save roughly 2 million, given that the Rays would not have non-tendered Cron by the 20th. If they do indeed trade for Gray, it wouldn’t cost them anything financially, they would even save money, and worst case scenario he begins the year in the pen.

If the Rockies do indeed make Jon Gray available, I think it would be a mistake for the Tampa Bay Rays to pass up the opportunity to trade for the once highly touted pitching prospect. Like I said, worst case scenario, he ends up in the pen with an electric slider and mid 90’s fastball. Best case scenario, Gray rebounds in a new environment and finds himself at the heart of a very talented rotation.

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Jon Gray is very talented and just needs to regain his footing. He could end up being a cheap, under the radar acquisition that could help the Tampa Bay Rays reach the playoffs in 2019 and the years that follow.