Thirty-year-old Robbie Ray had a career year in 2021. The Blue Jays signed the southpaw to a one-year $8 million, a steal in light of the near-200 excellent innings he threw for Toronto.
The biggest change for Ray was fixing his control issues. Ray led the league in strikeouts this year with 248, and over the course of 193 ⅓ innings, amassed a 3.9 fWAR and 63 ERA- and 87 FIP-. Ray’s 2021 was a huge improvement from his 2020 season, in which he led the league in walks with 45; that improvement in control turned him into one of the best AL starters.
Toronto signed Rays on a one-year flyer, hoping he could bolster the Jays’ pitching as a mid-rotation starter. By mid-season, Ray was pitching like a true ace. He even set a record for the most strikeouts through any pitcher’s first 1000 innings.
Ray generated nearly 25 percent whiffs on his 94+ MPH four-seam fastball and he was equally effective with his breaking balls. Hitters swung-and-missed on nearly 50 percent of those offerings as well.
While the Blue Jays got Ray out of the bargain bin due to his poor performance in 2020, his 2021 reset makes him an intriguing candidate for nearly any team. If his mechanics improvement is to be believed, and teams view his 2021 as the new-Ray rather than anomaly, he’ll have plenty of suitors.
So far this offseason, rumors abound about Ray’s next home. As a top-ten free agent, and likely the second-best starting pitcher available (Max Scherzer is the clear number one, Ray and Marcus Stroman are next-tier), Ray’s breakout is perfectly-timed. He’s likely to receive a multi-year offer in the realm of four-or-five years, particularly in a competitive market, that additional year might be the difference-maker.
The Angels are looking to revamp their rotation, and perhaps are willing to open their pocketbooks. The Yankees clearly need a strong number two behind Gerrit Cole, who is the favorite for AL Cy Young this season.
The Yankees being in-the-mix probably makes it most likely that the Blue Jays resign him. In a competitive AL East, the zero-sum addition of a pitcher like Ray could tip the balance in favor of one team or the other. The Blue Jays have to likely prioritize either inking Ray or Marcus Semien to a multi-year deal. Jon Heyman reported that Toronto would ideally like to sign both players, an intriguing though expensive possibility.
Blue Jays appear aggressive in market. Would love to keep both Ray and Semien, who had superb years after prescient signings by Toronto. Very good team seeks to step forward.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 10, 2021
It’s not like a Blue Jays spending spree would be out-of-character for this current Jays front office. They set a franchise record signing George Springer to a $150 million deal and also added Hyun-Jin Ryu on a multi-year $80 million deal. Considering their young infield studs cost very little, now would be the time to spend on complementary pieces that could deliver an AL East pennant and a World Series run.