Reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and the Seattle Mariners are finalizing a five-year, $115 million contract with an opt-out after the third season, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN's Jeff Passan.
Ray joins a Mariners team that surprised many last season by finishing second in the American League West with a 90-72 record. He becomes the ace of a Mariners pitching staff that includes Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert in its rotation.
Ray went from one of the worst starting pitchers in the majors in 2020 to the best in the American League in 2021, winning American League Cy Young honors after going 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA for the Toronto Blue Jays and leading the AL in ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts and WHIP. Ray had been a free agent after the 2020 season, but after leading the majors with 45 walks in 51⅔ innings between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Blue Jays and posting a 6.64 ERA, he re-signed with Toronto on a one-year, $8 million contract.
The Blue Jays will receive draft-pick compensation as Ray rejected the team's qualifying offer earlier this month. Toronto moved to replace Ray in its rotation on Sunday when right-hander Kevin Gausman agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract, sources told Passan.
Ray, 30, had long been one of the hardest-throwing left-handed starters in the majors and he led the National League with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings with the Diamondbacks in 2017, a season in which he made his lone All-Star appearance. His career strikeout rate of 11.21 per nine innings is also the highest of all time among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, ahead of contemporaries Chris Sale, Yu Darvish and Jacob deGrom. While his strikeout prowess has never been questioned, his command was always a weakness, as he entered 2021 averaging 4.1 walks per nine, including the poor results in 2020, when he struggled with an attempted mechanical change.
It finally came together in 2021. He worked out twice a day in the offseason and returned to a windup he had used in the minors. Most importantly, he threw strikes, finally trusting that his stuff was good enough to live in the strike zone more often. His fastball velocity improved from 92.4 mph in 2019 and 93.9 mph in 2020 to 94.8 mph, the highest it had been since 2016, and his strike rate on his four-seamer improved from 58% to 70%. Increased stamina and better pitch efficiency also allowed him to pitch deeper into games and top his previous high in innings pitched by 19.
"It's perseverance, being able to push through those adversities," Ray said after winning the Cy Young Award. "Mentally, I'm as tough as anyone. I feel like I put almost too much pressure on myself to be excellent every time I go out there. As far as that, the mindset was always there, it was just about putting the physical stuff with the mindset."
Ray began his career in the Washington Nationals organization and was traded to the Detroit Tigers, where he debuted in the majors in 2014. He became the fifth member of that team to win a Cy Young Award, joining Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price and Rick Porcello. Like those other four, Ray now lands his own big payday.
While 2021 might prove to be a career season, one reason to believe Ray can maintain a high level of success is a sound history of health. Other than missing time in 2018 with an oblique strain and a few starts in 2017 after getting hit by a line drive, he has been injury-free.
"I'm just looking to build on top of this, honestly, to keep getting better every single day and push forward to even greater things," Ray said.
Ray received 29 of the 30 first-place votes for the Cy Young.
ESPN's David Schoenfield contributed to this report.