After weeks of speculation, the Oakland Athletics have traded number one starter Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees. The A’s receive three players: RHP James Kaprielian, OF Dustin Fowler and SS/CF Jorge Mateo. The Yankees will also receive $1.5 million in international bonus slot from the A’s.
Gray, the A’s 2011 first-round pick, ends his tenure with Oakland with a 3.42 ERA in 705 career innings. This season, Gray has a 3.43 ERA in 97 innings with 94 strike-outs and 30 walks. He has been worth 1.7 WAR so far this season according to Baseball-Reference.
Gray’s last two seasons with the A’s have been mired by injuries. In 2016, he threw only 117 innings thanks to illness and a shoulder injury. He missed the first five weeks of this season with a lat strain sustained during spring training. Gray got off to a slow start when he returned to the A’s but had pitched much better over the past month. In 2015, he finished third in the AL Cy Young award balloting and was worth 5.8 WAR.
The A’s return from the Yankees comes with plenty of risk but also plenty of talent. Kaprielian was the Yankees’ first round pick in 2015 (#16 overall) out of UCLA. Considered a polished right-hander with solid, but not spectacular stuff coming into that draft, Kaprielian’s fastball took a leap forward that fall after signing with the Yankees. Elbow troubles limited him to only three starts in High-A in 2016, but he returned for the Arizona Fall League and struck-out 26 in 27 innings with the Scottsdale Scorpions. Kaprielian had a healthy spring, but his elbow began to bother him right after camp broke and he had Tommy John surgery in April.
When healthy, Kaprielian was one of the top right-handed starting pitching prospects in baseball. His fastball ranges from 94-97 and he locates well with the pitch. He also features a slider, a curveball and a change-up. Kaprielian will turn 24 next March. He will be on a similar recovery timetable as A’s 2016 compensation round pick Daulton Jefferies, who had Tommy John surgery this April.
Fowler is also dealing with an injury. The speedy outfielder gained national attention earlier this year when he severely injured his knee during his major-league debut. On June 29, Fowler slid into the right field foul wall in Chicago and ruptured his patella tendon before he even got his first at-bat in the big leagues. He is out for the season.
Before the injury, Fowler was in the middle of a breakout season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was batting .293/.329/.542 with 13 homers and 13 stolen bases in 70 games. The Yankees’ 2013 18th-round pick out of a Georgia high school, Fowler made a steady climb through the Yankees’ chain. He has solid bat-to-ball skills, developing power and above-average speed when healthy. Fowler is also considered a solid defender in centerfield. The biggest question is what impact his knee injury will have on his running ability, which is a big part of his game.
Mateo was considered one of the Yankees’ elite prospects going into this season, but evaluators took a step back on him when he struggled with High-A Tampa to start the season. The Yankees moved him up to Double-A Trenton on June 27 and he has played well since getting out of the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League. In 30 games with the Thunder, the 22-year-old is batting .300/.381/.525 with 11 stolen bases. He has 39 stolen bases in 99 total games this season.
Mateo has elite speed and an above-average throwing arm. He also has power potential that he is just starting to realize. A natural shortstop, Mateo has seen time recently at second base and in centerfield and the reports at both positions have been positive in the early going. There have been some maturity issues in the past and he was suspended by the Yankees for insubordination last season. His plate discipline also needs work. Still, Mateo is a unique talent whose ceiling may only be matched in the current A’s system by top prospect Franklin Barreto.
Mateo and Fowler will need to be added to the A’s 40-man roster, although Fowler can be placed on the 60-day DL. Both Mateo and Fowler are in their first option years. Kaprielian is a non-roster player. The A’s traded the international bonus slot money in large part because they couldn’t really use it themselves. They are under a cap limit on what they can spend on individual players on the international market thanks to the spending they did last year.
This is definitely a risky trade for the A’s, who haven’t had the best luck with previously injured players in recent years. If the trade pans out, the A’s could be looking at a package that includes two-thirds of their starting outfield for the next several seasons and a solid mid-rotation starter. But there is significant risk involved. Of course, the same could be said for the Yankees, who are taking in a starter in Gray who can be one of the top pitchers in baseball when he is right but who has struggled with injuries for the past two years.
Earlier in the day, the A’s also traded infielder Adam Rosales to the Arizona Diamondbacks for 23-year-old RHP Jeferson Mejia. Mejia is a 6’7” reliever who can run his fastball up to 97 MPH but has struggled badly with his command. He is currently in short-season. Mejia signed with the Cubs in 2013, so he will be Rule 5 eligible this year. He is a lottery ticket type player for the A’s minor league staff to work with. Rosales’ departure opens up a spot for Chad Pinder to return to the active roster.
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