The Chicago Cubs have not been as solid as they were last season. While some regression was expected from a dominant 2016, most fans did not expect the team to be where they are at this point in the season – struggling to maintain a .500 record and not sitting on top of the division at the end of June. One big reason for their rocky season is the performance of the starting rotation, which still features four guys from last year’s group. All four of those returning starters have seen a significant increase in their ERA totals, each of those totals rising at least 1.26 runs per nine innings.
Even with all of those guys playing below the level they pitched at last year, the real issues are coming from the fifth spot in the rotation. Brett Anderson pitched poorly (8.18 ERA, 2.09 WHIP, 13.9 H/9 in six starts) before getting hurt again, and Eddie Butler (4.19 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 4.9 BB/9) doesn’t pitch well enough or deep enough into games to be an impact part of the rotation. With an average of less than five innings pitched per start, Butler doesn’t help take any pressure or innings off of the bullpen. And even with the starting pitchers performing better lately (2.15 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, eight quality starts over the last 13 games), they still need someone to fill out the last rotation spot assuming that Mike Montgomery gets sent back to the bullpen when Kyle Hendricks returns from his injury.
We have discussed Jaime Garcia as an option and Patrick Corbin could help out in an unexpected way, but there is another young pitcher on the market that the Cubs have been linked to both this year and in the past as well.
Gray, who will turn 28 after this season, showed a lot of potential in his first few years in the big leagues as he burst onto the scene, posting a 2.88 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and four complete game shutouts during the 2013-15 seasons. It has not been easy for him since the end of that All-Star worthy 2015 campaign, putting up a 5.25 ERA and dealing with injuries over the last two years. The biggest question mark for any team thinking about trading for him is trying to figure out which version of Gray they would get. He has shown the ability be dominant, but he has also had his struggles once teams made adjustments against him.
He is also intriguing because of his contract situation. Gray doesn’t become a free agent after this year, so he isn’t just a rental piece. Rather, his contract is up after the 2019 season, so the Cubs would be trading for two and a half years of his services. Plus, his yearly salary wouldn’t be too cumbersome for the team, earning just under $3.6 million this season and he has two more years of arbitration left before becoming a free agent. As long as his salary stays well below the $10 million mark (unless he ends up deserving it), that would still give the organization enough remaining money to be competitive on big acquisitions to help fill out the roster.
There are a lot of teams that have been linked to Gray, and one report said that a National League team was interested in making him their closer (probably the Nationals). The Cubs definitely have the prospects to make a solid run at acquiring Gray, but it depends on how far they are willing to go. Creating a competitive package for Gray may prove to be difficult, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote as much on Monday.
“Every team wants someone like him, more because of what they believe he can be rather than what he has been.”
Gray would definitely be an improvement on a combination of Anderson/Butler/anyone else they have in their system, and a switch over to a new team (and maybe even to the NL) could prove to be what he needs to clear his head and get back to his 2015 self.
As it has been written here and on pretty much every other site, the Cubs need one last piece in the starting rotation to help them make a push in the second half. If the Cubs were to trade for Gray, we may not know exactly what we could be getting. We do know that he would still have over two years left on his contract. What we don’t know is if we would get the Sonny Gray that lit up the league in his first few major league seasons, or the Sonny Gray that has dealt with injuries and inconsistencies over the last two years.
At just 27 years old and with the potential we’ve seen, I say he’s worth the risk.
Stay tuned here for future Cubs rumors and developments as this year’s trade deadline approaches.
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