I don’t know if he’ll pull down his pants on the field and show us all he’s got, but, regardless, I’m certain Cleveland needs to get Jon Gray right now.
With Aaron Civale out at least 4-5 weeks, there are as many starting pitchers left in the rotation from Opening Day as there are starting pitchers in my living room. Whether or not the team can sustain being nine games over .500 and cash in on the 55.1% playoffs odds PECOTA gives them as of this writing, Cleveland needs Gray just to keep the bullpen from collapsing under the burden it now has to bear.
First, Colorado is almost certain to be a seller this year. After trading Nolan Arenado for a bag of rocks (which are ample in the Rocky Mountains, weird trade) and agreeing to pay most of his salary, the team essentially put up the white flag before the season started. Now, at 30-44, they’re standing on the lifeless corpse of the Diamondbacks to avoid touching the floor in the cellar of the National League West. With 0.0% playoffs odds from PECOTA and FanGraphs, Colorado already has very little to play for in 2021.
Second, the Rockies front office is not exactly known for its competence. Jeff Bridich was the man in charge of the giveaway trade of Arenado, but he resigned in April. The logical heir to Bridich, Jon Weil, who was assistant GM, was passed over for a promotion when the team put Bill Schmidt in place as interim GM and subsequently told to get lost. Putting a guy known as a “draft guru” in charge of starting a rebuild does not seem like the best way forward to me, but it does seem like the best way to get rid of your major-league talent in order to get a good draft spot. Which is where Cleveland should come in to take advantage of the situation.
Cleveland faces a roster crunch at the end of this season, with many good young players at risk of being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Among those players are Aaron Bracho, Joey Cantillo, Tyler Freeman, Bryan Lavastida, Owen Miller, Richie Palacios, Bryan Rocchio, José Tena, and George Valera — and based on their performance so far, you might need to add Francisco Perez (1.15 FIP at Double-A, recently promoted to Triple-A) and Jhonkensy Noel (.347/.368/.639 at Single-A, due for a promotion any day). To mitigate the risk of losing these players for nothing, Cleveland should deal some of them for more immediate help. Because Gray is a rental, with his contract expiring at the end of this season, I’d doubt he’d command one of Cleveland’s top prospects, but 22-year-old Bryan Lavastida and 20-year-old José Tena, both of whom are still at High-A but have significant upside, might be a starting point (or finish line) in conversations about Gray.
Finally, Gray makes a good case for himself as to why Cleveland should get him. Even though he’s been on the injured list since June 5, he’s close to returning and his career numbers suggest a pitcher that could shore up Cleveland’s patchwork rotation.
With 14 fWAR in his career, Gray ranks 31st among active pitchers in cumulative fWAR since 2015. He’s maintained strong peripherals, with 8.98 K/9, 3.01 BB/9, 1.11 HR/9, and 46.9% GB% throughout his career — all while pitching half his games in the home run factory that is Coors Field. Prior to injury this season, Gray was cruising along at his typical speed, with a 4.29 ERA through 63 innings pitched. He had lowered his barrel rate and hard-hit rate to 3.7 and 33.5, respectively while maintaining his fastball velocity at 94.6 mph and separating nicely with an 87.3-mph changeup, 86.6-mph slider, and 75.9-mph curveball.
Gray would enter the Cleveland rotation as the ace, but only until Shane Bieber returns from injury. He is more of a middle-of-the-rotation arm, but he could provide major upside in that role, particularly as a buffer between Cleveland’s young and promising pitchers and the tough reality of breaking into the major leagues. For all the good that has come from Triston McKenzie, Jean Carlos Mejia, and Eli Morgan so far, it would be unfair to count on them to keep Cleveland in the thick of the playoff race much longer — or even to keep eating innings at this level. Getting Gray would certainly help and would ease the team’s congested Rule 5 contingency: win-win.