At 46-45, Arizona is among a slew of clubs with realistic playoff hopes in the wide-open National League. Just 1 1/2 games back of wild-card position, the Diamondbacks don’t look like surefire sellers with the July 31 trade deadline three-plus weeks ago. Should that change, though, the Diamondbacks could have an attractive trade chip in starter Robbie Ray. The Yankees are among teams that “historically have liked” the left-hander, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently reported (subscription required).
Now 27 years old, Ray was already a piece in a trade featuring the Yankees earlier in his career. As part of a three-team deal in December 2014, the Diamondbacks acquired Ray from the Tigers, the Yankees got shortstop Didi Gregorius from the D-backs and the Tigers picked up righty Shane Greene from New York. Ray has since turned into one of the majors’ greatest strikeout artists among starters, having posted the league’s third-highest K/9 (11.14) dating back to his first season in Arizona. Shaky control (4.09 BB/9) has helped prevent Ray from limiting runs at an ace-level rate, though the 3.86 ERA and 3.85 FIP he has put up in 692 1/3 innings as a Diamondback are still respectable.
The 2019 version of Ray has offered production in line with his career totals. Over 104 2/3 frames, the slider-heavy Ray owns a 3.96 ERA/4.05 FIP with 11.78 K/9 (fifth in the game) and a 13.7 percent swinging-strike rate (12th). On the negative side, Ray’s velocity has dipped compared to last year, and though his walk rate has fallen from 5.09 per nine to 4.64 since then, it remains unpalatable. Ray has also yielded home runs on upward of 15 percent of fly balls for the fourth consecutive year, in part because his groundball rate checks in just under 40 percent for the second straight season. Moreover, as Rosenthal notes, Ray has never been known as a workhorse who lasts deep into games. He has only amassed 30 or more starts once, in 2016, and has averaged well under six frames per outing in his career.
Ray does have his flaws, but no team would expect to land an ace in acquiring him. The club would instead be under the impression it’s trading for one-plus year of a solid, affordable starter. Ray is making a reasonable $6.05MM this year and in his penultimate season of arbitration eligibility – facts that only add to his appeal for the D-backs and other teams.
World Series-contending New York has been on the lookout for starters for weeks and could use an ace in light of Luis Severino’s ongoing injury problems. However, the team might struggle to find a true No. 1 starter from elsewhere this summer. The Indians may part with Trevor Bauer, who has landed on the Yankees’ radar, though he hasn’t consistently resembled his ace-caliber 2018 self. Along with Ray and Bauer, the Yankees have shown reported interest in the Mets’ Zack Wheeler (link), the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman (links here). For the most part, that group pales in comparison to a healthy Severino. Nevertheless, each of those starters would seemingly help a Yankees rotation that – despite the team’s AL-best 57-31 record – hasn’t received front-line production from anyone.
Looking beyond this season, the Yankees will lose the retiring CC Sabathia, which could make Ray or anyone else under control past 2019 an even more logical fit. Severino will at least be back next year (barring something catastrophic), though, and Jordan Montgomery could return from June 2018 Tommy John surgery by then. James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Domingo German and the struggling J.A. Happ comprise the rest of the Yankees’ experienced starters who are currently slated to stick around in 2020.