CINCINNATI (AP) — Sonny Gray knows what he’s getting into even before he arrives in Cincinnati.
His father tried out for the Reds and failed to make the cut, but remained a huge fan. Gray attended his first major league game at Great American Ball Park, and he knows about the town’s affinity for a unique style of chili.
The starter also knows that Great American is akin to Yankee Stadium, where he struggled mightily last season. Gray agreed to a trade from the Yankees anyway, along with a $38 million, four-year contract adding $30.5 million in guaranteed money from 2020-22.
The deal announced Monday includes a $12 million club option for 2023 that could increase the value to $50 million for five seasons and has additional performance bonuses for innings and escalators.
“The relationships just felt right,” Gray said during a conference call Tuesday.
The Reds made their third offseason move to upgrade their troublesome rotation on Monday, sending infield prospect Shed Long and a high pick in this year’s amateur draft to the Yankees in exchange for the 29-year-old Gray and left-hander Reiver Sanmartin. New York then sent Long to Seattle for 21-year-old outfielder Josh Stowers.
New York got Gray from Oakland in July 2017, but that relationship didn’t work out. He was dropped from the rotation in August and finished 15-16 with a 4.52 ERA overall for New York.
Gray had a 3.17 ERA on the road last season and 6.98 at Yankee Stadium. He’s moving to a ballpark that has been among the majors’ most homer-friendly every season since it opened in 2003.
“That never factored in to my decision,” Gray said. “I’m not huge into that type of stuff. I think if you can pitch and you’re comfortable pitching somewhere, honestly you can go out and get the job done, for sure.”
He can’t explain why his results were so much worse at Yankee Stadium.
“I’m not going to lie: I felt comfortable taking the mound,” he said. “I felt good. It just didn’t work out. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that.”
He felt comfortable joining the Reds in part because he’ll be reunited with pitching coach Derek Johnson, who was his coach at Vanderbilt. Plus, Gray was encouraged that the Reds are trying to resurrect themselves from four straight seasons with at least 94 losses. They’ve also traded for starters Tanner Roark and Alex Wood, giving their rotation an overhaul.
The Reds spent the last three seasons relying on young starters to emerge, but most of them struggled mightily. The three newcomers will join Anthony DeSclafani as a foursome with significant major league experience.
“It’s just some guys who have been around and know how to win and know the whole process, know what it takes to get through a whole season,” Gray said.
Gray’s lifelong bond with the Reds also contributed to his decision.
His father, Jesse, was a Reds fan growing up in Tennessee and tried out for their farm system but wasn’t chosen. His father usually wore a Reds cap and took Gray to his first major league game at Great American. He remembers trying the city’s version of chili — a Mediterranean-style meat sauce over spaghetti topped with cheese.
“It was a thing,” Gray said. “I remember that — some crazy little chili concoction that was delicious.”
Gray made the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati but didn’t pitch because he’d started the previous Sunday for Oakland. He started at Great American for the Athletics on June 10, 2016, and gave up five hits, two runs and no homers in 7 2/3 innings of a 2-1 loss.
Now he gets to pitch for the favorite team of his father, who died in a highway accident.
“So I know he’s looking down with the biggest smile on his face right now,” Gray said.
Gray had agreed to a $7.5 million, one-year deal with the Yankees. The new contract adds a $500,000 signing bonus, annual salaries of $10 million from 2020-22, the option and $500,000 in annual performance bonuses for innings: $100,000 each for 150 innings and each additional 10 through 190.
His salaries from 2020 on, including the option price, would increase by $2 million for each Cy Young Award, $1 million for every second- or third-place finish, $750,000 for each fourth- or fifth-place finish, and $500,000 for each sixth-through-10th-place finish. They would go up by $2 million for each MVP Award, $1 million for every second-or-third-place finish and $750,000 for each fourth- or fifth-place finish, and by $200,000 for each All-Star selection. The option price also could escalate by $600,000 for innings in 2022: $100,000 for 150 and each additional 10 through 200.
Gray also can earn award bonuses and would get $1 million each time he is traded.