The Seattle Mariners are finalizing a contract with American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on the condition of anonymity because Ray still must undergo a physical and the deal has not been signed. ESPN.com first reported the sides were finalizing an agreement, expected to be for US$115-million over five years.
Ray is coming off the best season of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, going 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA and 248 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings. A left-handed power pitcher, Ray led the American League in ERA, games started, innings pitched and led all of baseball in strikeouts.
He immediately becomes the ace of the Seattle staff. Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert are also under contract for the 2022 season for an ascending Mariners team that went 90-72 last season and barely missed snapping the club’s 20-year playoff drought.
It’s the second major move of the off-season by the Mariners and probably not the last one. Seattle acquired second baseman Adam Frazier in a trade with San Diego on Saturday, the first in a series of moves the Mariners believe will make them a contender in the American League.
A chunk of what Seattle had available to spend on free agents is going to Ray.
Ray wasn’t even an all-star in his first full season with the Blue Jays, which speaks to how dominant he was the second half of the year. Beginning with his start on July 11 against Tampa Bay, where he threw seven shutout innings, Ray had a 2.35 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 99 2/3 innings over his final 16 starts of the season. Ray pitched at least six innings in 12 of the 16 and allowed more than three earned runs only twice.
Ray was the clear choice for the Cy Young, earning 29 of 30 first-place votes to easily outpace New York’s Gerrit Cole.
It was a rebound season for Ray, who went a combined 2-5 with a 6.62 ERA for Arizona and the Blue Jays and issued the most walks in the majors during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Ray’s power arm always drew attention. He ranks No. 1 in major league history with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings (minimum: 1,000 innings), and he was an all-star with Arizona in 2017.
But controlling his heat and sharp breaking pitches often was a problem, and Ray bottomed out in 2020. The dip caused his base salary to drop from US$9.43-million to US$8-million this year. He earned some of that back with a US$125,000 bonus for winning the Cy Young, in part because Ray rediscovered his control. Ray walked just 52 batters with the Blue Jays.
Ray, who turned 30 on Oct. 1, made his major league debut with Detroit in 2014 and grew into a top starter during five full seasons in Arizona. Ray was an all-star in 2017 when he went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts.
So far, Ray has been durable. He’s made at least 28 starts in four of the past five 162-game seasons. The only season he didn’t make at least 28 starts came in 2018 with the Diamondbacks.