With one year to go before reaching free agency, left-hander Robbie Ray stands out as a fairly obvious trade candidate, and Jayson Stark of The Athletic tweets that other clubs feel that the Diamondbacks are indeed more open to trading Ray than they have been in the past. They report indicates the club would prefer controllable pitching in a theoretical return for Ray (though surely there’s no shortage of bats that’d intrigue GM Mike Hazen and his staff).
There’s plenty to like about Ray but also some cause for concern. On the one hand, he only just turned 28 years old and has clearly established himself as one of MLB’s premier strikeout artists. Ray’s 30.8 percent strikeout rate since the start of 2016 ranks fourth among all starters, trailing only Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander. Over that same span, the 70.8 percent opponents’ contact rate against Ray is the fourth-lowest in the Majors, with only Scherzer, Blake Snell and Luis Castillo ahead of him. He showed his upside with a dominant 2017 season that saw him make the National League All-Star team and finish seventh in Cy Young voting after notching a 2.89 ERA with a league-leading 12.1 K/9 mark.
On the other hand, Ray’s 2019 season wasn’t exactly a high point. He tied a career high with 174 1/3 innings but also pitched to a 4.34 ERA with a 4.29 FIP and 4.02 SIERA. Control has always been an issue for Ray, and it’s only worsened over the past two seasons, during which time he’s walked 12.1 percent of the batters he’s faced. Ray’s fastball averaged 95.3 mph in 2016 and 94.2 mph from 2017-18, but his mean heater was down to 92.7 mph in 2019. He’s missed time in each of the past three seasons, although none of his injuries have been arm-related. He was sidelined by a concussion in 2017, missed six weeks due to an oblique strain in 2018 and had a brief 10-day IL stint in 2019 due to back spasms.
Ray’s strikeout abilities are the sort of thing upon which clubs dream, however, and the general lack of clearly available, high-end arms on the trade market should lead to a healthy amount of interest in the lefty in the coming weeks (or months). MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected a $10.8MM salary for Ray in his final trip through the arbitration process.
With a strong 2020 season, it’s easy to see Ray being the type of pitcher who’d command a qualifying offer next winter — particularly since he’ll pitch all of the 2021 season (his first would-be free-agent year) at 29 years of age. He might alternatively be viewed as a possible extension target. That could increase the willingness of some organizations to give up a prized pitching prospect for a rental hurler, though Hazen will need to work the lines hard to get a premium farmhand.
It is fair to question the reasoning behind a Ray trade from the Arizona perspective. The organization has had plenty of success under Hazen at enhancing the long-term outlook while remaining competitive. But pulling off a repeat of the successful Paul Goldschmidt swap is easier said than done. And while the Snakes have a variety of youthful rotation options to fill in if Ray departs, losing him would significantly downgrade the club’s prospects for success in 2020. If the organization feels it can at least feature as a primary Wild Card contender, if not even challenge the Dodgers in the NL West, perhaps it’s best served hanging onto Ray and hoping he’ll throw well enough both to spur a winning campaign and to warrant a qualifying offer at season’s end.