The case for Robbie Ray
The Blue Jays have had a lot of talent go through their starting rotation in recent years, but not since Roy Halladay in 2003 have they had a Cy Young winner, and Ray’s performance this season could snap that streak once the award is announced later this fall.
It was a pretty remarkable campaign for the hard-throwing southpaw, especially when you consider that he looked pretty lost the year before. While still with the Diamondbacks to season the 2019 season, Ray posted a 7.84 ERA over seven starts prior to being traded to the Blue Jays. Since then he’s been a different guy, and in 2021 he turned a corner that I don’t know many could have predicted. When all was said and done for the regular season, Ray led the American League in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, innings pitched, and bWAR.
Can the Blue Jays afford to let a guy like Ray get away? Ideally they’ll be able to keep him around to anchor what became arguably one of the best rotations in baseball this season. Hyun Jin Ryu had an up and down season, especially late in the year, but the Jays have to be over the moon thrilled with what they received from rookie Alek Manoah, and also from Steven Matz. Even Ross Stripling was pretty fantastic for a stretch as a starter as well prior to his own injury.
There will be some writers that will argue that the Jays could get by without Ray, and there’s a case to be made for that line of thinking. Next season their rotation will return Berrios, Ryu, Manoah, hopefully a finally healthy Nate Pearson, and Stripling is still under contract for another year. They’d likely need at least one more veteran to fill things out, especially to protect Pearson’s spot, but re-signing someone like Matz could be on the table, or perhaps pursuing one of the many veterans that could hit the market this winter.
Having said that, the Blue Jays missed the playoffs by one game this year, and it’s hard to argue that they’re going to get better while losing their best pitcher, even if there’s room for growth from the others. Ray’s career year paced this rotation, and it’s what pushed them from good to great. If the Blue Jays are serious about taking that next step then I think they have to bring Ray back, or at least do their best to replace him with a top-end arm if they can’t.
The knock on Ray is that this season may be the best we ever see from him as a big leaguer, and if that’s the case it’s pretty understandable. It’s hard to gauge where his value may land as a free agent, but with the elite production he showed in 2021, I think he’s pretty universally considered to be an ace-calibre starter. Having just turned 30 a few days ago, it’s also possible that we haven’t seen the best of Ray yet either.