Sonny Gray's future

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 1, 2015 at 9:33 PM

A loyal reader asks:

How much longer do we have Sonny before he rides off to a new team and contract, providing he's not traded for some over the hill DH and prospects?

The straightforward answer is that Gray currently has one year, 61 days of service time. He can be a free agent, assuming he signs no extension between now and then, after the 2019 season, i.e. he's got four more years in green and gold after this one.

But the provisos and assumptions! In all the range of outcomes of Sonny Gray's career from here on out in terms of off-the-field, contract, business stuff, I think him becoming a free agent after 2019 with the A's is probably the least likely. The most likely is that he's traded at some point, maybe as early as the 2016-17 offseason, maybe the 2017-18. He's still a minimum-salary player this year and next, so unless the A's see something in him physically (a/k/a quasi-medically) that makes them think he's headed for a cliff, I'd assume they'll keep him around through 2016. After that, the money situation, especially as good as he's been through the first 357 innings of his career, might mean he's headed out to collect someone else's arbitration payday.

The other end of that spectrum is that maybe Lew Wolff ponies up enough of John Fisher's money to let Billy Beane sign Gray to one of those youngster deals buying out his arbitration seasons and maybe a free agent year, maybe with some options on the end, maybe not. These are neat! These are all the rage! These are what Sean Doolittle signed in April last year, less than 12 months before his shoulder started aching and we all started wondering whether we've already seen the beginning, middle, and end of his career.

Because pitchers, man! Pitchers. And the A's have ridden Gray pretty hard, given that it's 2015 and he's, uh, a smidge undersized for a starting pitcher and also he's 25. The 219 innings he threw last year at 24 is both rare these days and reserved for the very best pitchers in the sport:

Rk Player IP Year Age Tm
1 Felix Hernandez 249.2 2010 24 SEA
2 Clayton Kershaw 236.0 2013 25 LAD
3 Felix Hernandez 233.2 2011 25 SEA
4 Clayton Kershaw 233.1 2011 23 LAD
5 Clayton Kershaw 227.2 2012 24 LAD
6 David Price 224.1 2011 25 TBR
7 Matt Cain 223.1 2010 25 SFG
8 Daniel Hudson 222.0 2011 24 ARI
9 Julio Teheran 221.0 2014 23 ATL
10 Sonny Gray 219.0 2014 24 OAK
11 Madison Bumgarner 217.1 2014 24 SFG
12 Stephen Strasburg 215.0 2014 25 WSN
13 Chris Sale 214.1 2013 24 CHW
14 John Danks 213.0 2010 25 CHW
15 Mat Latos 210.2 2013 25 CIN
16 Ricky Romero 210.0 2010 25 TOR
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/1/2015.

That's pitchers with at least 210 innings in a season, 2010-14, at age 25 or younger. We're looking at three a year, and its only been done by 12 individual pitchers other than Gray in that span. I will forgive you for noticing and dwelling on the alarming names (Romero, Latos, Strasburg, Teheran, Hudson, Cain) rather than focusing on those top five slots.

So where does this point? Do the A's think they have an all-timer on their hands, a Felixian pitcher who can stand up to the workload and do it damn well? Or are they riding what they've got while they've got it and they'll pass the endgame off on someone else, in not-unLatosian fashion now that you mention it. I'd like to think Beane and crew aren't so cynical, that Beane has a healthier respect for the humanity of his players than this narrative would give him credit for, but, like, did you see what Farhan Zaidi just helped do down in Los Angeles? Juan Uribe! The Uribear! Exiled to Atlanta! This is wrong and incorrect and bad and no good, and outside of Beane's ballyhooed friendship with Eric Chavez, we have little reason to think he's taking much account of human happiness up on his throne, moving the little tanks around his battle map.

If that's pessimistic, well, so be it. We're A's fans. We've earned it.