NEW YORK — Adding Sonny Gray to a rotation already improved by the off-season acquisitions of Tanner Roark and Alex Wood has the Cincinnati Reds thinking about their first NL Central title since 2012.
“I think we have a group of guys that can hold their own with anybody in this division. I really do,” president of baseball operations Dick Williams said Monday after finalizing a trade with the New York Yankees for Gray. I know our guys feel a sense of confidence.”
Gray’s unsuccessful stretch in New York ended when the Yankees traded the pitcher after the 29-year-old right-hander agreed to a contract with the Reds that added $30.5 million from 2020-22 and includes a 2023 club option.
New York received infield prospect Shed Long and a high pick in this year’s amateur draft, then flipped Long to Seattle for 21-year-old outfielder Josh Stowers. The Yankees sent the Reds left-hander Reiver Sanmartin.
Derek Johnson, the new Reds pitching coach for manager David Bell, was Vanderbilt’s pitching coach when Gray played for the Commodores from 2009-12. Johnson lives in Nashville, Tennessee, Gray’s off-season home, and they keep in touch.
“It’s a guy who’s really talented and a guy who I think’s right in the middle of his prime and also a hungry guy,” Johnson said. “I think that’s the thing that we’re all counting on. I know what kind of competitor Sonny is and I know that last year didn’t sit well with him at all and he’s going to be out to try to prove something not only to other people but obviously to himself, as well.”
“It’s the best rotation we’ve had in five years,” general manager Nick Krall said. “It makes you feel better about where you are.”
Cincinnati and New York agreed to a deal Friday, pending a window for Gray to reach a long-term deal. Gray and the Yankees settled on a $7.5 million, one-year contract on Jan. 11 that avoided salary arbitration. He had been eligible for free agency after this season, and his new deal raises his guarantee to $38 million over four seasons.
Grey had a physical Monday in Goodyear, Arizona, where the Reds hold spring training, while his agent, Bo McKinnis, worked out the contract with Krall. For Williams, the long-term deal was key.
“We always wanted to add three starters if we could do so economically,” he said. “We didn’t want to be in a position where all three starters would be becoming free agents next year.”
Grey was 15-16 with a 4.52 ERA overall for New York, which acquired him from Oakland in July 2017. He was dropped from the rotation last August after he smirked when fans booed as he walked off the Yankee Stadium mound in the third inning of a 7-5 loss to Baltimore. Gray had a 6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium last year and a 3.17 ERA on the road.
“We really didn’t see anything that was diminishing in terms of the velocity and spin rates and things like that,” Williams said. “From a physical standpoint everything appears to be there. And we think he’s still at his age got plenty of upside and shouldn’t have any problem recapturing where he was.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had said throughout the off-season he intended to trade Gray, but Cashman waited until CC Sabathia was cleared to resume working out following a procedure last month to insert a stent to clear a blockage in an artery to his heart.
New York receives the Reds’ competitive balance round A selection, currently 36th overall.
Grey is 59-52 with a 3.66 ERA in six seasons with the Athletics and Yankees. He was an All-Star in 2015, his second straight 14-win season.
Long, 23, hit .261 with 12 homers, 56 RBIs and 19 steals last year with Double-A Pensacola of the Southern League. He was drafted in 2013 and requires a spot on the 40-man roster.
Stowers, 21, was selected by Seattle in the second round with the 54th overall pick last year and signed for a $1.1 million bonus. He hit .260 with 15 doubles, five homers, 28 RBIs and 20 steals in 58 games with Class A Everett.
The 22-year-old Sanmartin was 5-7 with a 2.81 ERA in 10 starts and three relief appearances for four minor league teams. He pitched mostly at Class A but made one start for Double-A Trenton.