It’s Always Sonny in The Bronx — but the Bombers took a calculated risk to try to capture their first AL East title since 2012.
Now, it’s on Joe Girardi and his club to deliver.
An hour before Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, Yankees GM Brian Cashman executed a rare blockbuster deal with A’s GM Billy Beane, acquiring 27-year-old righty Sonny Gray and international signing pool money from the A’s in exchange for prospects Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian and Dustin Fowler.
“I think we definitely improved ourselves,” Girardi said. “When I look at ownership and the front office, they’ve given us an opportunity to do something special here, and now we have to go out and do it.”
A year ago, the Yankees sold off Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Ivan Nova, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann for prospects. This season, the Bombers — initially viewed as a team in transition despite their unwillingness to waive the white flag — have added David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia and Gray.
“We’re trying to go from good to great,” Cashman said. “We have to wait and see how it plays out.”
Key to making the deal: The Bombers did not have to sacrifice 19-year-old Class A Charleston outfielder Estevan Florial, who they think highly of. In fact, Florial became almost as untouchable as Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres.
Also key: the Yankees’ inclusion of Kaprielian pushed the deal over the finish line.
Gray has an injury history, but the 2015 All-Star is under team control through the 2019 season, and has posted a 1.37 ERA in his last six starts. He has missed time in 2016 and 2017 due to a strained lat, trap and forearm.
The Yankees will not use a six-man rotation. And given that Cashman said Gray and Garcia were brought in to be starters, 24-year-old rookie lefty Jordan Montgomery could be the odd-man out. Montgomery (7-6, 4.15 ERA), a pleasant surprise since coming out of nowhere to win a starting job out of spring training, has minor-league options if he doesn’t join the bullpen. Montgomery said he is amenable to any role the team gives him.
Gray is expected to make his first start when the team begins its next road trip in Cleveland, although the exact day is unknown. Garcia is tentatively scheduled to start on Thursday against the Indians.
The A’s originally wanted either Frazier or Torres, but the Yankees quickly shot that proposal down, ultimately inserting Fowler instead of Florial, with Kaprielian’s inclusion in the final iteration needed to get the deal finalized.
The A’s had been scouting all levels of the Yankee system for a while, and long-held talks between Cashman and Beane — close friends who have both been executives for two decades — began to heat up Saturday night, continuing through Sunday and ultimately culminating in a deal on Monday afternoon.
Gray may not be Chris Sale or Jose Quintana, but he’ll certainly do.
When asked about Cashman’s moves by local reporters, Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski responded, “You mean the Golden State Warriors?” That was referencing when the Yankee GM slyly referred to Boston as the “Warriors of Baseball” when it got Sale.
Fowler, a 22-year-old outfielder, suffered a season-ending knee injury in his Yankees debut on June 29. Kaprielian, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April. Mateo, 22, has increased his value as a shortstop/centerfield prospect with a .300 batting average since his promotion to Double-A Trenton last month.
“Billy Beane definitely got high-end stuff from us, stuff we loved,” Cashman said.
Because of his injury, Kaprielian had moved behind Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield and Domingo Acevedo on the pitching prospect depth chart. Kaprielian, the Yankees’ top draft pick in 2015, won’t be able to make an impact for a while. But if he recovers and becomes the type of pitcher the Yankees think he can be, he’d be a significant loss.
The Yankees, however, have a need for a reliable starter both in 2017 and beyond, and Gray’s contract status gives the team some stability in the rotation. He is making $ 3.6 million this year and is arbitration eligible in both 2018 and 2019.
Plus, there is uncertainty in the rotation going forward: CC Sabathia will be a free agent after this season, Michael Pineda (also a free agent) is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Masahiro Tanaka (three years, $ 67 million remaining) could opt out of his deal at year’s end, although that appears unlikely. Severino (127.2 IP) has never thrown more than 161.2 innings in a season between the majors and minors, while Montgomery (113) has never thrown more than 139.1.
The Yankees got off to a surprising 38-23 start led by Aaron Judge’s power surge only to go into a 10-22 slump. But they are 9-2 since, and with Boston struggling both on and off the field, the Bombers (plus-119 run differential, 11-19 in one-run games) saw their chance to capitalize and took it. With a bolstered bullpen and rotation — combined with a potent offense assuming Judge (34 homers but a .169 batting average since the All-Star break) eventually gets it going — the Yankees have a real shot at the AL East title.
So it’s time for the Yankees, confident since the spring, to deliver.
With BILL MADDEN
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