MLB Rumors: Robbie Ray, Mariners Agree to 5-Year, $115M Contract in 2021 Free Agency

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 29, 2021

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 20: Robbie Ray #38 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on after the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 20, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Robbie Ray is cashing in on a career year, agreeing to a five-year, $115 million deal with the Seattle Mariners, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

The deal includes an opt-out after the third season.

The 30-year-old experienced his worst season in 2020. Between that and the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across MLB, he had to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal with Toronto for 2021. The pact proved to be a massive bargain.

In 32 appearances, the southpaw went 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA and 3.69 FIP. He averaged 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a personal-best 2.4 walks per nine innings. His 248 strikeouts were the most in baseball, one ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies' Zack Wheeler.

Ray was a near-unanimous Cy Young Award winner for the American League.

The Athletic's Kaitlyn McGrath wrote about how Ray turned the "best shape of his life" spring training trope into a reality by changing his offseason workout regimen. He also went back to a delivery he used earlier in his career in an effort to find more uniformity with his mechanics.

"That's something that I've been searching for my whole career is that consistency and the mechanical changes that I've made," he said to McGrath. "I think it's allowed me to have certain cues—physical cues—to make sure that I hit them every time. And they're really simple."

Ray's four-seam fastball velocity (94.59) was his highest since 2016, per Brooks Baseball. According to Baseball Savant, he had a 24.0 percent whiff rate and a 21.0 percent put-away percentage on his fastball. Those numbers were up from 19.4 and 17.5 percent, respectively, in 2020.

Ray also altered his approach to limit the usage of his curveball.

He threw that pitch 16.9 percent of the time in 2020, and opposing hitters had an expected batting average of .353 and an expecting slugging percentage of .579, per Baseball Savant.

His curveball percentage fell to 6.0 percent in 2021, and it became more effective. Hitters had a .278 expected batting average and an expected slugging of .399.

In September, Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked Ray as the No. 8 free agent and the second-best pitcher on the market behind Max Scherzer.

While the 2017 All-Star was terrible in 2020 (6.62 ERA and 6.50 FIP), he had a 3.96 ERA and a 3.92 FIP in five years with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2015 to 2019. He also had 955 strikeouts in 762 innings.

Even if Ray can't repeat the production that earned him his first Cy Young, he should continue to be a solid contributor near the top of the rotation.

For the Blue Jays, the July acquisition of Jose Berrios and his subsequent seven-year, $131 million extension may have been made with Ray in mind. In the event Ray walked as a free agent, Toronto would still have a No. 1 starter to anchor the staff.

Losing the left-hander won't help in the Jays' quest for the playoffs, but they should still be poised to contend.

On the other side, this is the kind of marquee acquisition Mariners fans have been clamoring for for years. The angst was particularly building after the team ranked 23rd and 25th in Opening Day payroll over the past two seasons, per Cot's Baseball Contracts.

General manager Jerry Dipoto triggered a rebuild after the 2018 season, symbolized by the trade of Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano to the New York Mets. Sooner or later, an increased level of investment needs to follow in order for an organization to take the next step.

Seattle's playoff drought extended to 20 years in 2021, but a 90-72 record raised hopes for 2022. Between trading for Adam Frazier and now signing Ray, Dipoto is looking to return to the postseason.