7:22pm: Drake will earn $775K in the deal, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. The contract includes a roster bonus of $325K if Drake hangs onto a spot for fifty days.
7:43am: The Rays have agreed to a Major League deal with right-hander Oliver Drake, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). The 34-year-old had a very strong showing with Tampa Bay in 2019 but battled forearm and biceps issues in 2020 and was ultimately removed from the 40-man roster during the postseason in order to make room for an ALDS replacement. He elected free agency after clearing waivers. He’s still recovering from the effects of that injury, it seems, as Topkin adds that Drake is expected to be ready to pitch around midseason.
Drake’s 2020 season was a rough one, as he was tagged for eight runs (seven earned) on seven hits and six walks with seven strikeouts in 11 frames. The forearm strain clearly dogged him, however, as evidenced by his fastball velocity dropping more than two miles per hour in his limited slate of work. He first hit the injured list with biceps tendinitis in early August before landing back on the IL due to a flexor strain in October.
The 2019 season was another story entirely for Drake. A year after riding the DFA carousel like none other and appearing for a record five teams in one season, Drake cemented himself in the Rays’ bullpen with a very strong showing. Through 56 innings, Drake worked to a 3.21 ERA and near-identical 3.18 SIERA while striking out 32 percent of opponents against a tidy 8.7 percent walk rate. Drake also induced grounders at a 52.3 percent clip and was, in general, something of a Statcast darling that year. He ranked in the 83rd percentile or better in each of the following categories: whiff percentage, overall strikeout percentage, expected ERA, expected batting average against, expected slugging percentage against and expected wOBA.
Whether he can return to those heights will be largely dependent on his health, but it makes good sense for the Rays to bring him back on an affordable deal to see if he can do just that. And by waiting until pitchers and catchers report to make the move, Tampa Bay can effectively stash Drake on the 60-day injured list from the jump. Had they signed him earlier in the offseason, they’d have had to boot someone else from the 40-man roster and carry him on the 40-man until camp opened and the 60-day IL was made available. Should Drake return to form, he’d be controllable through the 2022 season via arbitration.