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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees traded for a pitcher in 2017, but it was Sonny Gray — and look how that’s turned out

Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray walks to the

Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray walks to the dugout after the top of the second inning against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

With Luis Severino on the mound for the series finale against the Red Sox — and the Yankees giving him a four-run lead before he had to throw a second-inning pitch — it was one of the few times lately that general manager Brian Cashman could lean back, relax and not stress over the starting rotation.

Cashman already has been on the phone plenty searching for upgrades, and he said before Sunday’s game that there are trades to be made immediately if he feels inclined to pull the trigger.

“I’ve had GMs tell me if you give me what I want, I’ll do the deal right now,” Cashman said. “But what they want, I don’t want to give them.”

It’s not difficult to figure out who those players are. Cashman has declared Gleyber Torres an untouchable, sounds extremely reluctant to move Miguel Andujar and would include Clint Frazier only in a trade for a top pitcher controllable beyond this season — not a rental.

The Yankees aren’t desperate to make a deal. Not yet. But if Cashman requires any further reason to tread carefully, all he has to do is look at Sonny Gray, the blockbuster trade that has turned into a cautionary tale.

For Gray, Cashman sent three of the Yankees’ top 12 prospects to the A’s: outfielder Dustin Fowler (No. 4), infielder Jorge Mateo (No. 8) and righthander James Kaprielian (No. 12). That’s a pretty good haul, even if Fowler was coming off midseason knee surgery and Kaprielian was in the midst of his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

And what have the Yankees received in return? Gray is 9-13 with a 4.68 ERA in 27 starts for the Yankees, including Saturday’s debacle, when he teed up a first-inning grand slam by Rafael Devers and was pulled after getting only seven outs in Boston’s 11-0 rout.

As disturbing as that performance was, Gray’s postgame comments were almost as worrisome.

He called the outing “embarrassing” — no argument there — and further cut himself down in a way that doesn’t happen very often, even for the most self-deprecating players in pinstripes.

“I feel like we’re the best team in baseball four out of five days, and then I come out and do that,” Gray said. He added, “If I was out there [in the stands], I probably would have booed me harder.”

These mea culpas at Gray’s locker have been way too common this season, hardly befitting a pitcher whom Cashman envisioned as a front-line starter. Then again, Gray had a 3.42 ERA in five years with the A’s and didn’t become a mediocre starter until he switched the laid-back Bay Area for the big house in the Bronx.

Coincidence? Not when you factor in a few other telling numbers, such as his 8.25 ERA at Yankee Stadium compared to 3.28 on the road, split between 16 starts. Or his career 1-6 record and 6.98 ERA against the Red Sox, including 0-4 with a 9.35 ERA as a Yankee.

It doesn’t take a forensic scientist to draw a connection here. Cashman and Aaron Boone insist that Gray is fine physically. He’s made no mention of any mechanical issues, either. So what we’re left with is a crisis of confidence, maybe the hardest problem to fix.

“How he’s pitched is a concern because it’s been enough time,” Cashman said. “All I can tell you is that he’s capable of more and he knows it. We know it. He’s obviously going to continue to work through it the best he possibly can, and my job is to continue to find ways to improve this roster and give our manager as many choices. So we’ll see.”

As for those choices, the Yankees have an off day Thursday — Gray’s next scheduled turn — but Boone and Cashman said there is no immediate plan to skip him. Masahiro Tanaka (hamstring strains in both legs) is expected to return from the disabled list for next week’s series in Baltimore, so that will allow the Yankees to be mindful of Jonathan Loaisiga’s innings limit.

Short of a trade, the Yankees aren’t so much sticking with Gray as being stuck with him. Even though Cashman denies an increased sense of urgency with Gray struggling, he won’t sit idly by tolerating it, either.

“I was pursuing a starter regardless,” Cashman said. “I’ve been pursuing a starter since last winter, since last summer. We’re always in pursuit of starting pitching, so this doesn’t affect it.”

If Gray doesn’t self-correct soon, he could wind up a casualty of the same process that got him to the Yankees a year ago.


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