All-Star Gray mulls future: 'Wouldn't shock me if I didn't play any more after this year'

Veteran righty on verge of reaching 10-year MLB milestone

July 10th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- points out that each of his three All-Star nods have come exactly four years apart -- a testament to his ability to adapt and to endure. His previous honor, in 2019, was meaningful after the struggles of his tumultuous year-plus with the Yankees, an affirmation that he still belonged among the best.

He’s looking forward to the 2023 All-Star Game as a way to celebrate his longevity, to enjoy the relationships he’s forged around the league -- and it’s fitting that this All-Star nod coincides almost exactly with his celebration of an MLB player’s ultimate status symbol.

On July 18 -- the Tuesday after Gray hopes to pitch in the Midsummer Classic, he will reach 10 years of service time, the elite threshold celebrated as what makes a player “a statistical superhero,” as boasted by the MLB Players Association. Very few play baseball at the highest level. Much fewer play more than a handful of years. And only a truly select echelon combine the talent, respect and adaptability needed to reach that 10-year mark.

And it’s a milestone Gray has thought about since the start of his career.

“Wouldn't shock me if I didn't play any more after this year,” Gray said. “Wouldn't shock me. Do I want to? Do I think I can? Absolutely. And I can at a very, very high level. It's not about the money. It's whether you still enjoy it, and does your family still enjoy it.”

Now, that’s not Gray saying that he plans to retire when he becomes a free agent this winter, because he still feels the competitive fire, the desire to add a World Series ring to a career that has already seen so much. And clearly, he’s still doing it all at the game’s highest level, ranking 10th in the Majors with a 2.89 ERA in 18 starts.

But he also admits that a younger version of him saw the 10-year mark as an endpoint of sorts. When Gray signed his extension with Cincinnati in 2019 -- the contract he’s carried over to the Twins -- he knew that the final season of that deal would take him across that 10-year mark.

“The running joke with me was that I was always, ‘Oh, I'll play 10 years and I'm done. I'm out this mug,’” Gray said. “Everyone that knows me from back then, they give me [crap] now: ‘Oh, you still done?’”

Truthfully, though 10 years of service -- at which point an MLB player’s pension fully vests -- marks an exclusive gateway, Gray always expected to get here. Once the No. 18 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Gray knew that he was more talented than most, with a competitiveness that stood out even in this hyper-competitive world.

He threw hard and had a great curveball, and that’s the 2015 version of him that made his first All-Star team. Then, came the struggles in New York, and a more mature, nuanced version of Gray emerged stronger for it in ‘19, with the Reds. And now, with his new cutter as a sixth weapon, he’s the savvy veteran, the leader of the Minnesota pitching staff at age 33.

“I think it's really cool, all that's happened for him in the span of 10 years,” said Kyle Farmer, one of Gray’s closest friends. “He's a great baseball player, and he's an even better friend to me. It makes me feel like I'm getting 10 years, too, with him.”

The question, then, is this: Has Gray’s thinking changed on, as he said, getting “out this mug”?

Having kids, Gray said, changed things. In some ways, it made him want to stop even more, yet it also made him want to keep going even more. Gray takes immense joy in having his boys, eight-year-old Gunnar, and four-year-old Declan, in the clubhouse, and it means a lot to him that they’ll be old enough to appreciate this All-Star Game.

Ever competitive, he yearns for the playoff thrill and for the World Series ring. But there’s going to be more to it on his mind as he approaches and passes this 10-year mark -- and beyond.

“Does it still work with your family? Do your boys still enjoy it? Do they still want you to do it? Do they want dad to be home?” Gray said. “You think about it every now and then, just being real. But they love it, they enjoy it, they think it's cool. It gives them a little bit of street cred at school. So we'll see how it plays out.”