The Toronto Blue Jays have made the first free agent signing of the 2020-21 MLB offseason. Toronto has re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to a one-year contract, the team announced. The deal is worth $8 million plus awards bonuses, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan and The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.
Ray, 29, joined the Blue Jays in a trade deadline swap with the Diamondbacks. He went 2-5 with a 6.62 ERA in 51 2/3 total innings this past season, including a 4.79 ERA in 20 2/3 innings with Toronto. From 2017-19, Ray pitched to a 3.72 ERA with 618 strikeouts in only 460 innings with Arizona. That's who Toronto hopes they get in 2021.
At his best, Ray is a high-strikeout left-hander who walks too many -- his 31.3 percent strikeout rate is sixth highest in baseball since 2017 and his 12.3 percent walk rate is second highest -- leading to high pitch counts and short outings. When he's good though, he can be very good. Ray is one of the few free agents with legitimate upside.
Our R.J. Anderson ranked Ray the 56th best free agent on the market. Here's a snippet of his write-up:
Ray overhauled his mechanics prior to last season, shortening his arm stroke in the same way that has proven beneficial for other pitchers, including Lucas Giolito. It wasn't so fruitful for Ray, however, and he ended up walking nearly a batter per inning. He gained velocity and spin, and he still missed bats with his slider, so expect some team to pick him up with the thought that another winter of refinement could see him resume being a volatile mid-rotation arm.
Ray will rejoin Cy Young finalist Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark in Toronto's rotation next season. Ross Stripling and top prospect Nate Pearson are the early favorites to get the other two spots, though others like Anthony Kay and Trent Thornton figure to be in the mix. The Blue Jays could add another free agent starter from outside the organization as well.
For what it's worth, MLB Trade Rumors projected a one-year contract worth $6 million for Ray, while FanGraphs crowdsourcing projected a two-year deal worth $8 million annually. This is expected to be a tough winter for free agents, especially mid-range free agents like Ray, following the pandemic and shutdown. Getting $8 million guaranteed seems like a good outcome.
The Blue Jays went 32-28 in 2020 and earned the No. 8 postseason seed in the American League. They are clearly a team on the rise given their young position player talent, and they are among the teams with financial flexibility this winter. Ray may only be the start of a busy offseason for Toronto.