The Seattle Mariners made their first big splash in free agency when they signed left-handed starting pitcher Robbie Ray. Ray won the 2021 Cy Young Award as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays after a career year during the 2021 season. The deal is for 5 year and $115 million ($23 million AAV). This is the largest free agent contract Jerry Dipoto has given out during his time in Seattle. Since he received the qualifying offer from Toronto, Seattle will have to give up their third-highest draft pick to sign Ray. He fits as the best starting pitcher in the Mariners rotation and is likely penciled in as opening day starter. The lefty brings strikeout upside that the rotation has lacked for several seasons and veteran experience vital to a young team.
Robbie Ray was a 12th round pick of the Washington Nationals out of high school in 2010. He was traded to the Detroit Tigers in 2013 where he made his Major League debut and was subsequently traded again to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December 2014. Ray spent parts of six seasons in the desert where he was a good-not-great pitcher. Despite his underwhelming numbers, Ray’s calling card–outside of his tight pants–is his absurd strikeout rate, with his K/9 being above 11 every season after 2015. In fact, Ray has the highest K/9 ratio in MLB history of any pitcher with more than 1000 innings thrown. He struggled during the COVID shortened 2020 season and was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline. He would re-sign with them on a one-year deal and that’s where it gets interesting.
In 2021, everything clicked for Ray. His walk rate dropped considerably to a career low of 2.42/9 while he maintained his high strikeouts. This was good for a 2.84 ERA and 3.69 FIP. Ray also pitched 193.1 innings, a very respectable total for a modern starting pitcher. This incredible performance earned him the Cy Young honor for the first time in his career—and hopefully not the last. Overall, Ray is the best pitcher on the Mariners’ roster and may be their best overall player. There is a chance of some regression, but the changes Ray made in 2021 are legitimate and should lead to long term success. This move really signals what Dipoto and others have said during and following the 2021 season: the Mariners are here to win now.
Stats and background per Fangraphs and Baseball Reference