3. Robbie Ray (Age 30)
Before the 2021 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, Robbie Ray had an up and down pitching career with the Detroit Tigers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Prior to 2021, his best year was in 2017 when he was 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, 218 strikeouts in 162 innings, and a 5.0 WAR with the Diamondbacks. His performance was lackluster in other years, punctuated by walk-prone episodes.
However, Ray had a Cy Young-type season in 2021 with an AL-best 2.84 ERA, 154 ERA+, 248 strikeouts, and a 1.04 WHIP in 193.1 innings. He finally corrected his control problems that had long kept him from becoming a truly elite pitcher this past season. Ray’s 2.4 walks per nine innings in 2021 were much better than his career average of 4.3 walks per nine innings.
Ray finished the season with an impressive 6.7 WAR. He is clearly the top free agent starting pitcher on the market this offseason.
Ray has received a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays for $18.4 million (this year’s set amount). We think he will likely reject this bid and want to leverage his terrific performance in 2021 to pursue a lucrative, multi-year contract. Based on his performance this past season, we expect several teams will want to acquire him and that he will not come cheap.
If the Yankees decide to open their vault, aggressively pursue Ray, and sign him, they will get an excellent complement to Cole, also a Cy Young Award candidate this year. Assuming that Ray continues to pitch exceptionally well, the Bombers will have a premier starting rotation for several years to come.