The second half of the Major League Baseball season kicked off last night, and the Oakland Athletics beat the defending American League champions at the Coliseum, 5-0, behind a dominant pitching performance from former All-Star hurler Sonny Gray. He gave up just two hits in six scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians as he lowered his season ERA to 3.72 with the effort. Gray has been the subject of numerous trade rumors recently, but the Oakland organization definitely should not trade its young staff ace.
Gray turns 28 in November and will be entering his prime, which makes him an appealing targets for teams in contention right now. The A's are not in contention, really, of course. Oh sure, they're only 6.5 games out of the last wild-card slot in the AL, but it would be hard for Oakland to make up that ground right now unless the team trades for players. Considering the A's rebuilding mode right now, that isn't likely. Oakland needs to continue building its talent base, and the team has plenty of other trade chips to play with this month.
Here's why the A's need to hang on to Gray for the 2018 season and beyond.
1. He's too talented right now to be replaced: Gray is the only All-Star starting pitcher the Oakland organization has on its roster. Of the six primary starters on this year's team, three are on the disabled list and one is in the minor leagues. Lefty Sean Manaea is going to be special soon, and countering him with a righty like Gray is the best option the A's have going forward if they want to compete next season. Trade Gray now, and the entire rotation is once again in shambles heading into yet another season (2018).
2. The team needs him as the face of the franchise: Earlier this season, the Oakland organization released two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt. He had been the face of the franchise since the front office dismantled the core of the 2012-2014 playoff roster before the 2015 season. Without Vogt, the team's only established marketable veteran is Gray. While the roster has young talent, Gray is now the elder statesman of the team, and trading him hurts the public perception of the A's goals.
3. Oakland wants to contend in 2018: Since the 2014 playoff loss to the Kansas City Royals in the AL Wild Card Game, the A's have posted the worst record in the AL with just 177 wins in 414 games (.428 winning percentage). Oakland is on the verge of a third-straight last place finish in the AL West, a division the team has won a record 16 times since divisional play began in 1969. How much more losing do the A's want? New ownership has been clear about its priorities, so trading Gray would not fit into this strategy to field a winning team sooner rather than later.
4. The new stadium is closer than ever before: Speaking of new ownership, Team President David Kaval has stated he will have a stadium plan in place by the end of this season/year. That means the A's could be playing in a new facility as soon as the 2020 season. That's the first season Gray could be eligible for free agency, but if Oakland takes the bold approach and locks him up now for a few seasons beyond that, the A's could have a very good team by the time they take the field in their new ballpark. That target is also part of the new ownership plan for the future.
5. Think of the fans and the attendance numbers: Trading Gray would send another "screw you" message to the loyal Oakland fan base, which is shrinking year by year now due to the team's ineptitude on the field. Look at the attendance trends in A's history when the team goes through prolonged slumps. It's a nightmare. While Managing Partner John J. Fisher has deep pockets, that's not the point. Oakland is averaging just 18,528 tickets sold per game this year, the lowest mark since 2010 when the team experienced a fourth-straight playoff-free season. The A's don't want to go back there again, do they? It would happen if the team trades its best player.