As free agent pitchers continue to fly off the board, AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray remains unsigned, though he is still drawing plenty of attention. The Angels, Red Sox, and Blue Jays have been previously linked to Ray on the rumor mill, and The New York Post’s Joel Sherman (Twitter link) also lists the Twins, Tigers, and Giants as among the clubs with interest in the left-hander. In addition, Sherman says to “keep an eye” on the Rangers, which isn’t surprising given how much Texas has already splurged on free agent talent, including another top pitcher in Jon Gray.
Of the new teams in the hunt for Ray, it isn’t surprising to see Detroit and San Francisco listed, as both clubs have already been looking for pitching and been aggressive with some early signings. The Tigers agreed to sign Eduardo Rodriguez for five years and $77MM, while the Giants re-signed Anthony DeSclafani and were reportedly close to also retaining another familiar face in Alex Wood.
While Ray would obviously be a huge help to either team, the argument can be made that San Francisco has the bigger need. Just about all of the Giants’ 2021 rotation was eligible for free agency, and leaving plenty of holes to be filled around Logan Webb. DeSclafani’s return filled one gap and Wood would fill another if he also re-signed, though Kevin Gausman left the Giants to instead sign a five-year, $110MM deal with the Blue Jays. If there is a silver lining to Gausman’s departure, it could be that Toronto would seemingly be less likely to re-sign Ray, removing some competition from the Giants’ pursuit.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have a somewhat fuller rotation in E-Rod, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal all lined up for starting jobs, though the latter trio are is long on promise but still short on experience at the Major League level. Adding a proven veteran star like Ray makes that rotation much stronger, and also provides a full-circle moment since Ray formerly pitched for the Tigers during his 2014 rookie season. Detroit acquired Ray from the Nationals for Doug Fister in December 2013, and then flipped him to the Diamondbacks a year later as part of a three-team swap with the Yankees.
Perhaps the bigger obstacle for a Motor City reunion might be the draft pick compensation attached to Ray for rejecting the Jays’ qualifying offer, as Detroit already gave up a pick to sign Rodriguez (who also rejected a QO from the Red Sox). As a club who received revenue sharing in 2021, the Tigers’ penalty for Rodriguez was the loss of their third-highest selection, which will be either their second-round pick or their Competitive Balance Round pick, depending on which of the two CBRs the Tigers are drawn into this winter.
If the Tigers signed another QO-rejecting free agent like Ray, the Tigers would lose their fourth-highest selection in the 2022 draft. Since Detroit still seems to be considering Ray, it would appear that losing two draft picks isn’t out of the question for the club. The presence of the extra CBR selection does help ease the pain, and the Tigers have obviously built up a sturdy amount of young talent through their years of rebuilding.
Likewise, the Giants would also have to give up a draft pick for Ray. Since San Francisco isn’t a revenue-sharing team and they didn’t exceed the luxury tax in 2021, the Giants would lose their second-highest pick and $500K from their international draft pool if they signed Ray or any other QO free agents. San Francisco issued a qualifying offer to one of its own free agents this winter, though Brandon Belt ended up accepting the one-year deal to return to the team.
Minnesota is perhaps the most interesting of the new teams in the mix. Like the Tigers, the Twins are a revenue-sharing recipient and also the holder of a Competitive Balance Round pick, which could mitigate the draft capital they’d lose to sign Ray. The Twins also have a strong need for front-of-the-rotation pitching, since Jose Berrios was dealt last summer, Michael Pineda is a free agent, and Kenta Maeda will very likely miss the entire 2022 season due to Tommy John surgery.
Despite these factors, signing Ray to something close to five years and $130MM (MLBTR’s projection for the lefty’s next deal) would represent the second-largest contract in the Twins’ franchise history, and the type of financial outlay that Minnesota has traditionally preferred to avoid. However, the Twins have been open to larger spending in other free agent pursuits in recent years, and swung such a notable deal with Josh Donaldson’s four-year, $92MM pact in the 2019-20 offseason. Additionally, Minnesota just hit the nine-figure threshold by inking Byron Buxton to a seven-year extension that will be worth at least $100MM and perhaps significantly more if Buxton hits various incentive clauses.
Spending roughly $26MM on Ray in average annual value would boost the Twins’ 2022 payroll to around the $119MM mark, but considering the club finished the 2018 campaign spending around $131MM in player salaries, Minnesota would still have room to make other additions. Plus, Miguel Sano, Taylor Rogers, and Tyler Duffey aren’t guaranteed beyond 2022, and Buxton and Randy Dobnak are the only Twins players on the books beyond the 2023 season.