NASHVILLE – Deciding whether to offer Sonny Gray a contract extension is one of the biggest long-term questions facing the A’s.
Billy Beane has said in the past that it’s a possibility. But on Tuesday, the A’s top baseball executive pumped the breaks when asked about the idea, saying there’s little margin for error in committing such big dollars for a team that annually operates on a small budget compared to many other clubs.
“We have no choice but to be right,” Beane said on a decision to lock up Gray. “I mean, we just can’t absorb being wrong. So sometimes you have (to ask), ‘Is the risk worth it?’ … Especially where some of these deals are going now (in terms of cost). Even if we’re right, it may not be the right thing to do based on the percentage of payroll the player would be taking up. And if you’re wrong, you’re in big trouble. It’s kind of almost a lose-lose situation.”
Some would argue that the A’s payroll constraints are exactly why they should attempt to extend the 26-year-old Gray now. He will become arbitration-eligible in 2017, when his salary will begin escalating sharply on his way to free agency before the 2020 season. The A’s could at least get some cost certainty by inking him to a deal now.
But Gray would not come cheap. He’s posted a 2.88 ERA in three big league seasons and has a top-three Cy Young finish and All-Star selection under his belt.
Oakland has made moves to secure some of its young core pitching in the recent past. Trevor Cahill received a five-year, $30.5 million contract in 2011. Brett Anderson got four years and $12.5 million in 2010 and Sean Doolittle received a five-year $10.5 million extension in 2014.
Gray’s price tag obviously would be on another level, probably doubling Cahill’s contract value over the same amount of years.
So if extending Gray isn’t automatically in the cards, should the A’s go ahead and trade him? He could command a huge return given his age and the fact that he doesn’t hit free agency for four more years.
“It’s a fair question,” Beane said. “You’re talking about a guy who was on TV for (the) Cy Young. He’s still a two-plus pitcher (in terms of service time), and you could imagine how many people, at least early in the winter, were inquiring on him. We were pretty aggressively returning those calls and saying it wasn’t something we were gonna consider. That’s our stance now.”
Expanding on the factors to consider in whether to trade Gray, Beane added:
“A lot of it is the surrounding team -- where you’re at and where you’re headed. If you have a five-plus (year) star pitcher and you’ve been in last place for three years, it might behoove you to change things. There’s just a lot of variables.”
The A’s dealt reliever Evan Scribner to Seattle on Tuesday night for minor league right-hander Trey Cochran-Gill. But the talk surrounding the A’s bullpen right now centers on the pitchers they’ve added. Manager Bob Melvin is pleased with the addition of high-velocity guys like Ryan Madson and Liam Hendriks. Madson’s three-year contract won’t be announced until he completes a physical later in the week.
[RELATED: A's trade Scribner to Mariners]
“One of the things we probably didn't have that some of the other bullpens had were hard throwers, guys that come in and miss bats, throwing 95, 96 miles an hour,” Melvin said. “We had a couple of guys, but it seems like most bullpens, every time that bullpen door opens up, someone is coming out of the bullpen throwing hard, so that was key.”
Scribner gave up 14 homers last season, most among major league relievers, and was out of minor league options. Cochran-Gill is a reliever who spent most of 2015 at Double-A. He’s got a 2.90 ERA in 70 minor league games. He was a 17th round draft pick out of Auburn in 2014.