Well, well, well, on Sunday afternoon, a somewhat tentative offseason for free agents suddenly cranked the hot stove to 11 as a host of players agreed to contracts. The Texas Rangers came out of nowhere to snatch Marcus Semien on a shocking seven-year deal, then added starting pitcher Jon Gray and outfielder Kole Calhoun. The Blue Jays landed one of the top free agent starters in Kevin Gausman. Suddenly deals and rumors were flying fast and furious, with teams concerned about getting physicals and terms finalized before the lockout date of December 1 at 11:59 p.m.
For most of the night, the Detroit Tigers weren’t getting name-checked. Other than Semien, the top free agent shortstops had a quiet night. But just before midnight on Sunday, the Tigers were suddenly linked with free agent lefty Robbie Ray by Joel Sherman of The New York Post.
Teams pursuing Robbie Ray include Tigers, Twins, SFGiants, Angels and keep an eye on the Rangers. They are very aggressive in this market.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) November 29, 2021
Now, that was a bit of a surprise. The Tigers have been heavily discussed in the shortstop market, but after signing Eduardo Rodriguez, they were largely expected to shop in the bargain department for more pitching help. The expectation being that they were unlikely to spend the money after also signing a big time shortstop.
Of course, maybe they could do both, particularly if they pass on Carlos Correa, who will be the most expensive of the group. However, it’s also possible that signing Robbie Ray would mean an end to the pursuit of a high-end shortstop for the offseason. It’s pretty tough to see the current 2022 lineup carrying this team to the postseason without another good bat added in free agency or trade. That rotation, on the other hand, could be excellent with some development from the younger starters.
Frankly, we’re not counting our chickens with Robbie Ray. The amount of need for starting pitchers from stated contending teams remains pretty great. It’s hard to believe that after signing Rodriguez, the Tigers are going to win what will absolutely be a dogfight among bigger market teams for the 2021 American League Cy Young award winner.
Obviously Robbie Ray is no stranger in Detroit. Acquired for Doug Fister in a controversial trade after the 2013 offseason, Ray struggled mightily with his control in 2014 and was moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-team deal that brought Shane Greene to Detroit. That proved to be a substantial mistake as Ray settled in the very next season, and has been a pretty good major league starter ever since. Always a high strikeout, high walks, sort of pitcher, the three-true-outcomes arm of legend, Ray finally got the walks under control this season and put up a stellar 2.84 ERA over 193.1 innings of work for the Blue Jays.
FanGraphs estimated a four-year deal worth $112 million for Ray this offseason. We wouldn’t be surprised if that ends up being too low. Add another year and you might be a winner. Other than possibly Max Scherzer, who might land as much as $80 million on a two-year deal, there isn’t a better pitcher available. Expect the bidding war to be brief and intense from here, as it does seem likely that Ray will agree to a deal in time to beat the deadline.
Obviously, were the Tigers to sign Robbie Ray, there would likely be serious implications for their ability to address the shortstop position. Maybe that makes a cheaper option like Javy Báez or even Chris Taylor more likely. One has to assume it would mean the end of the Tigers interest in a top option like Carlos Correa or Corey Seager. However, it’s very hard to see the Tigers as a front-runner for Robbie Ray.
The Rangers appear to be on a major spending spree for some reason, after winning 60 games in 2021. The San Francisco Giants lost Kevin Gausman in free agency, but can certainly outspend the Tigers should they choose. The Angels desperately need a dependable ace to pair with Shohei Ohtani and the lottery ticket that is Noah Syndergaard right now. Arte Moreno also has the track record as a free spender, and his team is badly in need of a playoff birth to stop wasting perhaps the two best talents of this generation. Somehow I don’t see the Twins going all in on someone like Ray, but the point is, the competition will be fierce and there are probably a few other teams interested who could jump in on him. Everyone wants Robbie Ray. So for now we’re going to say the odds of Ray in Detroit to be very low.
Surely this family picture Ray tweeted back in August is just coincidence. Hat tip to our friends at Motor City Bengals for hanging onto this gem for just such an occasion.