During an offseason in which they intended to spend more than they have in many years but hadn’t seemed to find many players wanting to take their dollars, the Mariners finally joined Major League Baseball’s free-agent frenzy Monday afternoon by adding the reigning American League Cy Young winner to their starting rotation.
MLB sources confirmed a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan that the Mariners reached an agreement on a five-year, $115 million contract with left-hander Robbie Ray.
An official announcement could come as soon as Tuesday afternoon. Sources said Ray was flying to Seattle on Monday evening and would undergo a physical Tuesday morning before signing a contract that includes an opt-out clause after three years and other bonuses.
Ray, who turned 30 on Oct. 1, posted a 13-7 record with a 2.84 ERA in 32 starts. In 193 1/3 innings, he racked up 248 strikeouts with only 52 walks with a 1.045 WHIP (walks plus hits over innings pitched). Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, his 3.9 WAR was sixth most in AL starters. His 32 starts tied for most in the AL while he led the league in innings pitched, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP.
He narrowly missed out on being a unanimous selection for the Cy Young Award, garnering 29 of 30 first-place votes with Gerrit Cole getting the other vote.
Toronto offered Ray a $18.4 million qualifying offer for the 2022 season. He declined the offer to become a free agent. Per the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires after Wednesday, the Mariners would forfeit their third-round pick in the 2022 MLB draft.
MLB sources weren’t certain if the draft-pick penalty would apply under the new CBA that is being negotiated. But the Mariners are planning as if they will lose the pick. If the Mariners were to sign another player with a qualifying offer attached — Chris Taylor, Trevor Story or Michael Conforto — they could have to forfeit their fourth-round pick if those rules still apply.
It was a significant bounce-back year for Ray, who struggled in the shortened 2020 season. He made seven starts for the Diamondbacks, posting a 1-4 record and a 7.84 ERA. He was traded to the Blue Jays at midseason and made four starts and a relief appearance, finishing with a 1-1 record and 4.79 ERA with Toronto.
He signed a one-year, $8 million contract to return to the Blue Jays for the 2021 season. Reverting to a more coiled delivery that he used to become an All-Star in 2017 with the Diamondbacks, Ray saw some command return to his swing-and-miss stuff. He lowered his walk rate from a career-worst 17.9% in 2020 to a career-best 6.7% in 2021.
A native of Brentwood, Tennessee, Ray was selected in the 12th round of the 2010 draft by the Nationals. He was traded to the Tigers in 2013 along with two other players for right-handed pitcher Doug Fister. At age 22, he made his MLB debut on May 6, 2014 in Detroit.
Following his debut season, Ray was traded to Arizona, his third organization, in December 2014 as part of a three-team trade that featured shortstop Didi Gregorious going from Arizona to the Yankees and right-handed pitcher Shane Greene being sent from the Yankees to the Tigers.
With some advice from Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who was serving as a special assistant for the Diamondbacks, Ray made the National League All-Star team in 2017. He posted a 15-5 record in 28 starts with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 162 innings pitched.
In 189 starts and four relief appearances over eight MLB seasons, Ray has a 62-58 record with a 4.00 ERA while striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings.