Sonny Gray’s tenure with the New York Yankees ended unceremoniously, and there’s really no two ways around that fact. From marquee mid-year pickup in 2017, Gray’s struggles in Yankee Stadium saw him dropped from the rotation to the bullpen midway through last season before ultimately being left off the playoff roster altogether. Then, Yankees GM Brian Cashman all but stated publicly that Gray would be traded for whatever they could get during the offseason, which Cincinnati Reds fans now know quite well.
It’s easy to forget that Gray is still just 29 years old, though, and that he’s got a Top 3 finish in Cy Young voting under his belt - as well as a 5 WAR season. On top of that, the righty has experience pitching as the ace of his rotation, as evidenced by his three consecutive Opening Day starts while a member of the Oakland Athletics.
Elbow stiffness delayed his Cactus League start for the Reds this spring, but on Thursday Gray logged 3 perfect innings (with a K) against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He did so with the kind of command that helps make Cincinnati’s decision to trade Shed Long and cough up potentially $50 million over a 5-year commitment seem like a cool, calculated measure, one that might well land them a pitcher who can be the anchor of their rotation both now and for the foreseeable future.
What do pitchers who fit that kind of profile normally do? Well, they start for their teams on Opening Day, that’s what, and Gray’s second consecutive rock-solid outing should have him as the front-runner for that duty with the Reds at this juncture. If anything, he simply looks the part at the moment, but the fact that he comes with the banner of the front office’s commitment to him flying, too, means there is hardly a better player to be on the mound to throw the first pitch for these revamped Reds than Gray.
That’s not to say that he’s the only Reds pitcher with any merit for that duty, of course. While Alex Wood’s back has likely ruled him out of contention, the way Luis Castillo pitched down the stretch last year and his electric arsenal certainly deserves at least some mention for the honor. And, like Gray, there’s nothing that Tanner Roark has done in his initial foray into Reds pitcherdom so far this spring to make the team’s pursuit of him this past winter completely warranted. Still, the Reds acquisition of Gray, his extension, and the cobbling together of a coaching staff that seemed to be calculatedly tailor-made for him being atop the rotation for the future all pointed to the Reds hoping Gray would take the top-of-the-rotation job and run with it, and his initial time on the mound so far this spring has done nothing to dampen that sentiment.
In other words, Gray has looked dominant enough in the obvious scenario presented that the selection of anyone else as the Reds Opening Day starter would almost look silly at this point. To be sure - I mean that as a very good thing. He’s got vast experience in that role already, he’s certainly still got the talent to do so again, and he has absolutely looked the part in his limited action so far.
If that isn’t the face of who should throw the first pitch of this next phase of the Cincinnati Reds long, dark rebuild, I’m not sure what is.