The Braves should renew their interest in lefty Robbie Ray

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Braves’ GM Alex Anthopoulos has been a busy man so far this offseason. I’m not sure anyone could question that. His latest move, of course, came on Sunday afternoon when he signed free agent catcher Travis d’Arnaud to a 2-year, $16 million deal, shoring up an obvious weakness at the team’s catcher position. But perhaps it’s time to crank up the old trade generator and acquire a much-needed starting pitcher for the 2020 rotation. That remains the glaring hole when looking at the Braves roster heading into 2020. How about left-handed starter Robbie Ray, from the Arizona Diamondbacks?

Back in July, the day before the 2019 Trade Deadline, Chase wrote up a piece relaying that the Braves were interested in Ray, along with five other teams. In his article, he mentioned quite an interesting aspect of Ray’s game: he knows how to pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers. At that time during the 2019 season, Ray was 9-7 with a 3.91 ERA — as Chase wrote… not too sexy. But, in 18 career starts versus the Dodgers, Ray held a 2.93 ERA, an impressive achievement, nonetheless, especially considering the Dodgers have ruled over the National League for quite some time now.

But this post today isn’t about Ray’s success against the Dodgers. Eighteen starts are nice but not enough of a sample to delve into 1,000 words worth. No, this post is more of a proposition; a case for the Braves to trade for the 28-year-old lefty.

Ray is projected to earn roughly $10.8 million in arbitration this coming season, well worth the price for a guy who accrued 2.4 fWAR in 2019, thanks to 12.13 strikeouts per nine, a rate that ranked third in the majors and second in the NL. Make no mistake; Ray isn’t some weak-contact-inducing lefty. He’s a power-pitcher and strikeouts are his game, illustrated by his career 11.09 K/9 mark.

But with the strikeouts also came the walks, and Ray wound up finishing with 4.34 BB/9 — better than his 5.09 rate in 2018 but still not ideal. That’s been his only bugaboo during his six years in the majors; well, that and injuries. But even with several different ailments in his time, Ray has managed at least 23 starts over the last five seasons, including 33 in 2019. He’s never hit that 200 innings mark, but the Braves wouldn’t necessarily need him to.

With the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 spots already taken care of — Mike Soroka, Max Fried, and Mike Foltynewicz, respectively — the Braves need a solid No. 4 in it’s starting rotation; a guy that can contribute 120-140 innings. That’s right up Ray’s alley, as he has averaged 132 innings per season during his six years with the D’Backs. 

Ray would be a stabilizer for the Braves; a prime-Julio Teheran but with more upside… and left-handed to boot — a pitcher like that has value. And with value comes a cost, which is what we should probably discuss next.

(The D’Backs fielded offers for Ray leading up to the 2019 Trade Deadline, including proposals from the New York Yankees. According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Arizona asked the Yankees for a package that included young outfielder Clint Frazier and three additional prospects, a rather outrageous demand that obviously never led to a deal between the two teams).

Considering Ray will be a free agent after the 2020 season, the Diamondbacks won’t be able to fleece teams in trade talks this time around. Ray isn’t some 22-year-old top-5 prospect that the Braves must give up the farm for. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll be cheap. The Diamondbacks certainly don’t have to trade him. In fact, his performance thus far could warrant an extension, considering his 30.8% K-rate since 2016 ranks fourth among all starters in the majors.

In a report by MLB Trade Rumors last Friday, the Diamondbacks seem to be interested in controllable pitchers (pretty much a younger or more controllable version of Ray) as part of their return in a possible trade. This bodes well for the Braves, as they have plenty of elite starting pitching prospects at the upper levels of the minors, plus guys like Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson who could perhaps be back-end starters for a team like the D’Backs (who may not yet be ready to aspire for contention).

To acquire a talent like Ray, it would seem like a requirement for the Braves to include one of Wilson or Wright. Although, maybe the D’Backs would be more interested in a pitcher with a bit more big-league experience? A guy like Sean Newcomb may be more appealing, especially considering he’s not a free agent until the 2024 season. 

According to Baseball Trade Values — a site that features a trade simulator for exercises such as this one — Ray is valued at 18.3 $Ms and Newcomb 13.0 $Ms (click here for more info on how the site computes its value metric). With the two pitchers coming in at comparable values, the Braves could throw in a bench bat or a lower-tiered prospect to make up the difference, though we must remember that Ray would essentially be a 2020 rental, unless of course, the Braves receive some assurance that he would sign with the team.

The actual cost could vary a bit, but Ray is most certainly a player Anthopoulos can acquire without giving up his best cards (e.g., Cristian Pache or Ian Anderson). If controllable pitching is what the Diamondbacks want, the Braves’ GM has an assortment in which to choose from.

Regardless, after signing d’Arnaud this past weekend, the team still has two crucial moves left to make, a limited budget remaining and an abundance of prospect surplus. Perhaps it’s time for Atlanta to cash in and fill that hole in the starting rotation. 


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