The SF Giants should pursue Robbie Ray
The 2020 baseball season has yet to begin, but is it too early to look at potential fits for the San Francisco Giants in next year’s free-agent class?
The answer is never. The club will likely need to rebuild a rotation that could see Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly, and Kevin Gausman walk in free agency, if they are not traded beforehand.
Still, San Francisco has plenty of question marks in a way-too-early preview of the 2021 rotation. They could fill at least one hole with a long-term addition.
Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports recently took a look at next year’s class, and identified Houston Astros outfielder George Springer as a potential fit.
I do not believe the Giants will be in the market to dish out a five-year deal as Johnson speculates, but there is little doubt they will be looking for outfield depth.
Speaking of depth, team president Farhan Zaidi has been in an endless pursuit of adding depth since taking over the baseball operations, especially on the pitching side.
This leads us to a 2021 free agent who might become an appealing option for San Francisco: Left-handed hurler Robbie Ray.
The Giants have seen plenty of Ray over the years as Ray has worn out opposing hitters while wearing an Arizona Diamondbacks uniform.
The 28-year-old has faced off against the Giants 14 times in his six-year MLB career. In that time, Ray has posted a 5-2 record with a 3.33 ERA and 103 strikeouts across 75.2 frames.
The strikeout total seems obscenely high, but if there is one thing the Giants have been good at in recent seasons, it is striking out.
As impressive as Ray’s numbers against the Giants have been, his stats against the rest of the league have been less impressive.
Throughout his career, the long-time Diamondbacks southpaw has generated a 47-46 record with a 4.11 ERA against a 3.97 FIP.
Though, this does include a standout 2017 season in which the left-handed hurler posted a 2.89 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 163 innings while finishing seventh in Cy Young voting. If that season proves anything, it is that he certainly has high potential upside.
Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com took a look at next year’s free-agent class, and rated Ray as the 11th best free agent available.
Given his age and track record, Ray will look to land a multi-year deal, but the average annual value will not break the bank. It would not be surprising to see him receive a contract in the neighborhood of three years and $36 million. This is the type of neighborhood the Giants could certainly afford to live in.
Ray’s surface-level stats seem to suggest that, at best, he is a mid-rotation arm, but he generates strikeouts at an extraordinarily high rate:
Across six seasons, he has generated an 11.1 K/9 against a 4.1 BB/9, so he gives up his fair share of free passes as well.
For comparison, only nine pitchers posted a higher rate in 2019 than the 11.1 K/9 mark Ray has maintained since he debuted back in 2014. The names on this list are not short on star talent, including Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Jacob deGrom.
In today’s game, teams look for hidden talents by targeting pitchers with unique underlying attributes like high spin rates, premium fastball velocity, or devastating sliders. With Ray, some team is going to take a chance and leverage the southpaw and his ability to generate swings-and-misses at such a high rate.
He already has the stuff to post high strikeout totals, but he just needs a good environment to hone his abilities.
Why the SF Giants are a good fit for Robbie Ray
Few environments are better for pitchers than San Francisco with the spacious dimensions of Oracle Park, the expert guidance of Buster Posey, and the cutting edge, albeit risky, coaching staff that is going to focus on development at the major league level.
So, as the Giants look down the road, and see that only Johnny Cueto and Logan Webb are penciled in to begin next season in the rotation, they will need to make a few additions to the team’s starting pitching depth.
Zaidi has been hesitant to hand out multi-year contracts since taking over, but many of the underperforming contracts currently on the books are set to expire after the 2021 season, so he could use some of that flexibility to reel in a top free-agent pitcher in Ray.
If anything, it would be interesting to see division rivals swap left-handed hurlers considering that the Diamondbacks landed Madison Bumgarner this past offseason.
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Part of a rebuild involves supplementing the roster through free agency, and the Giants are inching toward that step as they bolster their farm system. No one knows what the 2021 season will look like, but the Giants will be hungry for more pitching in 2021, and Ray appears as a fit.