Robbie Ray, with Cy Young Award in hand, deserves whatever he gets in free agency. The Jays are still in the game
A season that began with a tumble down the stairs at spring training — bruised elbow, but the child in arms was fine — has rolled up with a Cy Young Award for Robbie Ray.
Which may put the stud free agent at even farther hailing distance from re-signing with the Blue Jays.
Baseball giveth and baseball taketh.
That’s Cy No. 5 in the annals of franchise history: Roy Halladay, Pat Hentgen and a back-to-back pair for Roger Clemens*.
But for Ray, the honour — bestowed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and announced Wednesday evening (you’d think the BBWAA would have a keener appreciation for deadlines) — marks the cresting of a career in splendid renaissance. From footnote marginalia, a low wattage trade to Toronto in 2020 that cost the Jays only the boomeranging Travis Bergen, to the apex of pitching recognition.
Twenty-nine out of 30 first-place votes, impressively. The lone contrarian came from an MLB.com mook in Detroit, casting his ballot for Gerrit Cole. Chicago White Sox hurler Lance Lynn rounded out the American League finalists. Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes copped the National League Cy Young.
In the Ray household, a celebratory fam eruption, dad with an armful of kids, with wife Taylor getting a particular high-five from hubby.
“My wife is a rock star. She was with the three kids all year basically by herself. For her to be able to do that, juggling a life on the road with three children in three different cities, I’d like to dedicate this to her because she was amazing through the whole thing.”
The congrats were coming in fast and furious — at least 200 text messages within the hour and the phone calls, well, he’d lost count of those. But a lot of those hoowahs were from Jays teammates. Which put Ray in a touched and reflective mood, if not more increasingly inclined toward returning to that fraternal clubhouse feel, while certainly appreciative of the club top to bottom. If he wasn’t exactly on the scrap heap when arriving from the Diamondbacks midsummer 2020, he’d definitely been scrambling around the bottom half of the pile.
No time for sentiment, though.
“I enjoyed Toronto,” Ray told reporters on a conference call. “I enjoyed the front office. Everybody was great. They were super helpful in everything. The players, the guys in the clubhouse, they’re a great group of guys. We enjoyed every minute together in the clubhouse.
“They just genuinely care about you. Obviously I love Toronto but, you know, we’ll see where things go.”
Does that sound like a past-tense observation, a fadeout to greener — as in bundles of cabbage — pastures? The Jays have already locked in José Berríos, their marquee trade deadline acquisition this past summer, signed on Tuesday to seven-year contract extension worth $131 million (U.S.). Not necessarily hedging their bets, but not dragging their feet either.
“Berríos is a great teammate and he earned every penny of that,” said Ray. “This doesn’t change anything for me. Toronto’s still in the conversation.”
There is no shortage of suitors for the just-turned 30-year-old southpaw from Tennessee and his famously butt-cleaving pantaloons. The shape of things to come will likely not be decided any time soon, with Major League Baseball a fortnight away from potentially invoking a lockout. Despite a handful of players who’ve recently inked new contracts, taking themselves off the free-agency board, most teams are observing wait-and-see prudence.
Veteran ace Justin Verlander — who, by the way, no-hit the Jays a couple of years ago and was being eyeballed by Toronto, reportedly — removed himself from consideration with the news (broken by brother Ben on social media Wednesday afternoon, so obviously a reliable source) he’d re-upped with Houston, signing a one-year, $25 million contract with a player option for 2023. Verlander missed all of this past season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. A one-year commitment from Verlander would have fit Toronto’s needs and financial landscape perfectly. Alas, his apparent loyalty to the Astros was an insurmountable obstacle.
The Tigers landed Eduardo Rodríguez earlier this week and former Jays prospect Noah Syndergaard, also coming off Tommy John, has come to a one-year agreement with the Los Angeles Angels. Which stills leaves the likes of Max Scherzer and Kevin Gausman in the vintage elite aisle.
Lots of teams romancing a significant other starter when the horizon clears up, and lots of teams money-flush, with an unprecedented class of high quality free-agent arms. The Jays, meanwhile, have some significant holes to fill, including an infielder and two starting pitchers, plus multiple vacancies in the bullpen. Although the team budget hasn’t been specifically disclosed, they’re probably looking at around $150 million to $160 million for the coming season, a mighty chunk of which would be commanded by Marcus Semien, their other boldface free agent. All that before the real crunch descends, extending their bevy of young superstars.