What If the Red Sox Traded for Sonny Gray in 2015?

Truth be told, I’m stealing this “What if” idea from The Athletic, whose various writers are ‘exploring what might have happened if things had gone differently at significant points in sports history.’

The Athletic’s Chad Jennings began by looking back as recently as the Mookie Betts and David Price trade, and in accordance with that, I thought it would be interesting to look back at a time in Red Sox history prior to the club signing Price to a then record-setting seven year, $217 million contract in December 2015.

Yes, this point in time was just a few months before that, in October to be more specific.

The Red Sox were coming off their second consecutive last place finish in the American League East, marking the first time they had done that since the 1929-1930 seasons.

Under new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who was hired to replace Ben Cherington that August, the club was in desperate need of front-line starting pitching help coming off a 2015 campaign in which they ranked 13th in the American League in starters’ ERA (4.34).

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, before Dombrowski had even been hired, the former Tigers executive identified soon-to-be free agent left-hander David Price as a potential target to pursue that winter in an interview with Red Sox brass.

Potential trades for names such as the White Sox’ Chris Sale, the Indians’ Corey Kluber, and the Athletics’ Sonny Gray seemed possible as well.

Come October, per Speier, “the Red Sox tried to quantitatively compare the cost of a trade for an ace versus signing one in free agency. [Director of major league operations Zack] Scott oversaw the production of a sixteen-page memo, in this case exploring a hypothetical deal for the A’s Gray, in exchange for a five-prospect package of Rafael Devers, Blake Swihart, Manuel Margot, Henry Owens, and Javy Guerra.”

Based on the projections used in this memo, “the Red Sox considered such a trade a $230 million proposition, with the prospects carrying a projected future worth of $200 million on top of the roughly $30 million that the team anticipated it would have to pay Gray in salary over his remaining four years of team control.”

Gray, at the time, was entering his final year of being a pre-arbitration player.

The results of the assessment, however, did not sway the Sox to swing a trade for an ace, as they “believed it would cost less simply to sign a free-agent starter than it would to trade for a rotation solution.” That was especially the case in the event that including Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts in a trade for a starting pitcher became a must for another team, like the A’s.

In the end, Dombrowski and Co. chose giving up money over giving up prospects and wound up signing Price to that then-record-setting seven-year deal that December.

Although it does not appear that the Red Sox were all that close to acquiring Gray from Oakland, it is fascinating to look back and wonder what could have been.

Out of those five prospects listed above, Devers would be the one missed the most, as the major-league careers of Swihart, Margot, Owens, and Guerra haven’t really panned out to this point for various reasons.

It’s also compelling to look back because Gray in Boston would have been no sure thing. That much was made evident by a rather tumultuous 1 1/2 year tenure with the Yankees, although he has since bounced back nicely after being traded to the Reds in January 2019.

Price’s tenure with the Red Sox wasn’t picture-perfect either, but he did play an integral role in the club’s march to a historic World Series title in 2018 before getting traded to the Dodgers last month.

All in all, handing out massively lucrative contracts and involving top prospects in blockbuster trades both involve a great deal of risk. In the case of acquiring the services of a front-line starter when they most desperately needed one in Dombrowski’s first offseason as president of baseball operations, the Red Sox went with the former over the latter.

Note: If you haven’t already, you should read Homegrown by The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. This piece would not have been possible had it not been for the information provided in that terrific book about how the Red Sox built a World Series champion from the ground up.

RECAP: Rafael Devers Sets Tone Early and Chris Sale Fans 11 as #RedSox Shut out Yankees.

Coming off a game in which they were held to just one run by CC Sabathia and the Yankees pitching staff, the Red Sox made sure that was not the case on Saturday night. With Chris Sale on the mound though, they didn’t need much to pick up a series-evening win.

Making his 18th start of the season last night, Chris Sale wrapped up his stellar month of June with yet another superb performance against a team he has a solid track record against.

Going into what was his 14th career start against the Yankees, Sale owned a 1.73 ERA in 93.2 innings against New York over nine seasons, including one outing this season in which he allowed one run in just six innings pitched back on April 10th.

Right from the get go, it was clear that Sale meant business in a decently important game. And given the fact he had a four run lead to work with before he even took the mound, the lefty was not put in all that many stressful spots on Saturday.

In a full seven innings pitched, Sale held the Yankees to just three total baserunners on one hit, one walk, and one HBP while recording a healthy 11 strikeouts on the evening.

What was most impressive about the Florida native’s night would have to be his sixth frame of work, in which he struck out the side on 20 pitches, the most he threw in an inning. Can’t forget to mention the help he got from Jackie Bradley Jr. in the bottom half of the third as well.

Retiring the last 16 batters he faced, Sale finished with a final pitch count of 101 (72 strikes) after ending the seventh. Topping out at 100 MPH in that seventh inning, the 29-year-old hurler went to his four-seam fastball 36% of the time on Saturday.

A performance certainly worthy of a win, Sale improved to 8-4 on the season last night. He’ll look to build on a successful June in his next time out, which should come against the lowly Kansas City Royals on Friday.

In relief of Sale, Alex Cora turned to two relievers out of the Red Sox bullpen for what was essentially mop-up duty in a blowout game. First, Heath Hembree tossed a scoreless eighth inning, then Hector Velazquez tossed a scoreless ninth to wrap this thing up.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup made people forget about their one run clunker on Friday night very quickly.

Facing off against a pitcher who has struggled against Boston in the past in Sonny Gray, Rafael Devers got the scoring started right away in the first.

After recording the first two outs of the inning, Gray allowed the next three batters he faced to reach base on two singles and a walk. That set up an ideal scoring situation for Devers, and he capitalized on it.

Mookie’s reaction:

That grand slam was the first from the Red Sox since April 30th. With that slam, Devers became the youngest player in the history of Red Sox vs. Yankees matchups to go yard in that fashion.

An inning later, a leadoff double from Sandy Leon followed by a Mookie Betts walk set up another great scoring spot, this time for Andrew Benintendi. On the third pitch of his at bat, Benintendi ripped a single to right field to score Leon from Second and collect his 53rd RBI of the year.

Speaking of RBI, JD Martinez had three of them on Saturday, and he picked up his first in the second when a 322 foot sacrifice fly to right field scored Betts from third and put the Red Sox up by six runs early.

Fast forward all the way to the sixth now, with Gray well out of this game, and Martinez struck again. This time on an RBI single to score Jackie Bradley Jr. from second.

In the seventh, after Rafael Devers lined a one out double off of Yankees reliever Giovanny Gallegos, Sandy Leon blasted is his second home run is as many starts 388 feet into the right field seats.

From that point on, JD Martinez notched his 3rd RBI of the night in the eighth, and Brock Holt picked up one in the ninth on a pinch-hit RBI single to score his teams 11th and final run of the game. Not like it was needed, but it was still nice to see that production come from the bottom of the lineup after a quiet night on Friday.

Some notes from this win:

Alex Cora on the big win, “”The guys came out with an attitude today. It was fun to watch. There was something different with this group today.”

From @SoxNotes: Chris Sale has a 1.03 ERA in his last 5 starts. Among the 500+ pitchers who have made at least 10 starts vs. NYY in the Live Ball Era (1920-pres.), Sale owns the lowest career ERA (1.61) against the Yankees, as well as the highest SO/9.0 IP ratio (11.62).

With his five-hit performance at the plate on Saturday, Rafael Devers raised his batting average by 12 points, his OBP by 10 points, and his SLG by 22 points.

Entering July, JD Martinez leads all of baseball in HR (25) and RBI (67).

In this first day of July, the finale of this Red Sox-Yankees series will receive plenty of attention via Sunday Night Baseball. For David Price, this particular start looms large. A career 4.27 ERA in 19 starts at Yankee Stadium, the lefty will have plenty to prove in what should be a playoff atmosphere in the Bronx tonight.

He’ll be matched up against the best pitcher on this Yankees staff in Luis Severino. New York specifically moved their rotation so Severino would start tonight’s contest, so you know it means a lot for them as well.

First pitch of the final game is scheduled for 8:05 PM ET on ESPN.