Blue Jays kick off free agency by bringing back Robbie Ray

Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

To kick off what could be an active offseason for them, the Toronto Blue Jays are bringing back Robbie Ray.

The Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 this year, and now they’ve made the first signing of free agency. According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Blue Jays and left-hander Robbie Ray have agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal.

Toronto acquired Ray from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline. Over five appearances with the Blue Jays (four starts), he posted a 4.79 ERA with a 1.74 WHIP, a 10.9 K/9 and a 6.1 BB/9. For the 2020 season as a whole, he had a 6.62 ERA with a 1.89 WHIP, an 11.8 K/9 and a 7.8 BB/9 over 12 appearances (11 starts-51.2 innings). That BB/9 was the highest for any pitcher who threw at least 50 innings this past season.

After one regular season appearance for them as a reliever, followed by a three-inning relief appearance in the postseason, Passan added the Blue Jays will use Ray as a starter.

How good is Robbie Ray?

Ray has long looked like a budding ace, save for a couple things. Walks have been an issue for him, with a 4.3 career BB/9 and a 5.1 BB/9 over the last three seasons. Couple that with allowing home runs, 30 (tied for third-most in the National League) in 2019 and 2.3 HR/9 (13 in 51.2 innings) this year, and there’s a recipe for deteriorating results. Ray had a 2.89 ERA with a league-leading 12.1 K/9 in 2017, as he earned an All-Star selection and finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting. But it’s been downhill from there.

From 2017-2019, Ray’s average four-seam fastball velocity dropped nearly two MPH (94.4 to 92.7, via FanGraphs). With the short sample as a caveat, that velocity came back most of the way in 2020 (93.9 MPH).

The Blue Jays face uncertainty over where they’ll be able to play next season. But with payroll space to burn, they could be one of the more active teams this offseason. A run at big moves, like trading for Francisco Lindor or signing Trevor Bauer, can’t be ruled out.

Ray was a prime buy-low free agent target for teams seeking starting pitching, and the Blue Jays got it done quickly. He took the opportunity to stay, with an eye on a rebound season in 2021.

Related Story. 3 offseason moves the Toronto Blue Jays should make. light