Sonny Gray won’t make a regular-season start for the Cincinnati Reds until late March or early April, but he found a way into their fans’ hearts Tuesday during a teleconference with local media.
One day after the New York Yankees traded Gray to the Reds, the 29-year-old, right-handed starting pitcher from Smyrna, Tenn., told the story of his first visit to Great American Ball Park. His late dad Jesse, who once tried out for the Reds and became a fan of the team, took him to the game. The food stood out more than the baseball.
“When I was little, there was some chili stuff there,” Gray said. “There was a chili thing I remember eating, and that was the thing. I can’t remember exactly. I’m going to have to get back on that.”
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“It’s still a thing,” Gray was told.
“It is still a thing?” Gray said. “Well, good, because I love chili. I’m a huge chili fan.”
In that regard, Gray will fit in well in Cincinnati. Here are four more things to know about Gray and the trade that brought him to the Reds.
1. Still confident: Gray is 59-52 with a 3.66 ERA in six seasons with the Oakland A's and Yankees. However, he's coming off a down year. He was 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA in 23 starts and seven relief appearances in 2018.
Gray was 4-4 with a 6.98 ERA at Yankee Stadium and 7-5 with a 3.17 ERA on the road.
“I know who I am,” Gray said. “I know what kind of pitcher I am. I know what I’m about. I showed up every day. I think it’s no secret this year didn’t go as good for me as you would like, but at the end of the day, I showed up every and was ready to work and put in the work and time. I honestly think you can go through some hardships sometimes, and you go through the other end better than you ever were. That’s honestly how I feel.”
2. Signing extension: Gray, who was already signed through 2019, agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Reds through 2022. It's worth $30.5 million, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. There's a club option for 2023 for $12 million.
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Gray's relationships with people in Cincinnati — he played at Vanderbilt with catcher Curt Casali and one of their coaches there was new Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson — helped convince him to commit to the Reds. He's also excited about the direction of the franchise, which has traded for two other starting pitchers this offseason, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood, while also adding star power in the lineup with outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp.
“I’ve got a really good feeling,” Gray said. “We’re trying to turn the corner here and trying to start winning a lot of games, and that’s exciting for me for sure. It just feels right for me. It just felt right the whole time.”
3. Life experiences: Struggles on the mound are nothing for Gray compared to what he has dealt with in his personal life. His dad died at age 41 in an automobile accident on Aug. 26, 2004. Gray was a freshman in high school and 14 years old. He decided to play in a freshman football game on the same day his dad died and threw four touchdown passes.
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“I’ve had adversity my whole life,” Gray said. “I learned how to fight through it and how to continue on and push forward, and I think if you ask anybody in that Yankee clubhouse what I’m about and who I am, I don’t think you’re going to find one negative thing. That’s something that’s important.”
4. Long process: Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams began working on a trade for Gray before the winter meetings and had a number of exchanges with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman during the winter meetings in Las Vegas, Nev., in December.
The deal was finally completed Monday when Williams met with Gray in Goodyear, Ariz. Gray underwent a physical with Reds Medical Director Tim Kremchek, and Gray’s agent worked out the extension with Reds General Manager Nick Krall.
The Reds also received left-handed pitcher Reiver Sanmartin in the deal, while sending minor league second baseman Shed Long and a 2019 Competitive Balance A draft pick to the Yankees. The Yankees then dealt Long to the Seattle Mariners for center field prospect Jeff Stowers.
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Williams wasn’t concerned about Gray’s struggles last season or his ability to pitch in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
“This guy’s had a lot of success in hitters ballparks outside of New York,” Williams said. “He’s pitched in a lot of places and has a good track record. We really didn’t see anything diminishing in terms of the velocity and spin rates and things like that. From a physical standpoint, everything appears to be there. We still think he’s at an age with plenty of upside and shouldn’t have any problems recapturing where he was.”