As Sonny Gray prepares to take the mound against Toronto on Tuesday night, there's not a hotter name in the rumor mill as the major leagues' non-waiver trade deadline approaches Monday.
Yet there's a contradiction attached to the A's right-hander. He is simultaneously the likeliest Athletic to be traded, and the toughest to pry away simply because of what the team will demand in return.
The markets for first baseman Yonder Alonso and second baseman Jed Lowrie haven't developed as expected, to the point that you wonder how much the A's could even get in return for them right now.
That focuses the spotlight squarely on Gray, 27, who has posted a 1.62 ERA over his last five starts and comes with two more seasons of team control before he hits free agency. That's why he's been linked to no fewer than nine contending teams who are looking for starting pitching.
The A's sit in a position of strength here. They don't have to deal Gray right now, and indications from within the organization are that they don't feel a pressing need to deal him before Monday if they don't get swept off their feet by an offer. They can retain him, and he'll still hold great value as an offseason trade chip with those two years of team control.
MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported Tuesday morning that the Yankees and Nationals - who have already struck a deal with Oakland to get relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson this month - are two teams in particular to watch in the hunt for Gray.
Morosi also reported that the A's are targeting young outfielders as the anchor of any deal. That makes all the sense in the world given their organizational needs, particularly in center. It's also in line with what I've heard that the A's would prioritize getting position players in return since they worked so hard over the past couple of years to acquire and draft young starting pitching (though it stands to reason a deal for Gray would be a multi-player package that could also include pitching prospects as well).
Morosi specifically mentions Yankees Single-A center fielder Estevan Florial as a player the A's like. He's just 19 and at least a couple years away from the majors. But Billy Beane, the head of Oakland's baseball operations, said after making the Doolittle/Madson trade that the emphasis moving forward would be on acquiring high-end talent, not necessarily prospects close to being major league-ready.
Other potential Gray suitors have elite outfield prospects in their system: The Astros boast Kyle Tucker, the Nats have Victor Robles and the Mariners have Kyle Lewis, though it's doubtful whether Seattle has enough elsewhere in its farm system to assemble a package to land Gray.
Just a hunch, but keep an eye on the Dodgers as a team that could enter the Sonny Sweepstakes in light of Clayton Kershaw's lower back injury. There's strong ties between the Oakland and Los Angeles front offices, and the teams struck a deadline deal last summer that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to the Dodgers. They have one of the majors' top outfield prospects in Alex Verdugo, who's currently at Triple-A.
Though much mystery remains, an eventual trade of Gray is inevitable. The A's have a solid base of young pitching depth, both in the majors and coming up through the system. And Gray's rebound from a poor 2016, combined with his favorable contract status, makes him too tantalizing a trade chip for the A's not to make the move.
The key question is not "if" but "when."