Why the Phillies should be all-in on Robbie Ray Sweepstakes

With the annual, lively winter meetings less than a month away, free agency and trade news abounds as teams get a bit more loose-lipped around the event. Most of the buzz is fairly light at the moment, as general managers are also wary of revealing too much of their plans too early in the winter.

Still, there are already a lot of big names being floated around as potential trade chips. Stars Francisco Lindor, Kris Bryant, and Corey Kluber are all said to be available for the right price. Infielders White Merrifield and Miguel Andújar seem to be on the trade block as well.

I don’t expect the Phillies to target any of them, though, as the price will likely be too step for their lackluster farm system. There is one trade target, though, that the Phillies should undoubtedly pursue (again) this offseason- Robbie Ray.

According to Jayson Stark of The Athletic, teams sense that the Diamondbacks are more willing to deal the 28-year-old starter than they were a year, or even a few months ago. After trading franchise cornerstone and star slugger Paul Goldschmidt and losing lefty ace Patrick Corbin via free agency last offseason, the Diamondbacks seem to have their eye on the future and plan on rebuilding. A future that doesn’t include Ray, evidently, as the former all-star is up for grabs once again this year.

As some of you may recall, Ray was a trade deadline target for the pitching-needy Phillies this past summer. A Tennessee native, the southpaw starting pitcher has been a member of the Diamondbacks for the last five seasons- including a breakout, all-star campaign in 2017.

Though he wasn’t a perennial Cy Young award threat during his stint with Arizona, he was a serviceable starter. Known best for his gaudy strikeout numbers, Ray’s 30.8 percent strikeout rate since the start of 2016 ranks fourth among all starters, trailing only Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Justin Verlander. Over that same span, the 70.8 percent opponents’ contact rate against Ray is the fourth-lowest in the Majors(!).

Despite his relatively moderate earned run averages and supreme strikeout ability, Ray has only compiled 28 wins since 2015- 15 of which came during his 2017 all-star season.

Still, Ray would be a vast improvement from the current staff in Philly. With the same shoddy, underwhelming pitching staff still in place from a season ago, the Phillies very well may make a second run at Ray.

The Phillies would also be getting Ray at a discounted price, as he’s only projected to make roughly $11M in his final trip through the arbitration process.

At 28-years-old and approximately $11M, Ray is arguably a better value than Madison Bumgarner or Cole Hamels- who have both drawn interest from the Phillies this winter and will command top dollar for their services. Bumgarner, who was tendered a qualifying offer by the Giants, would cost the Phillies something upon acquisition in addition to the massive figure he’ll sign for. Hamels, conversely, won’t cost a team draft compensation upon signing, which may attract the Phils’ front office towards him. Be that as it may, I’d argue that Ray is still a better value than Hamels.

For starters, Ray is nearly ten years younger than Hamels, and while I don’t doubt the former World Series MVP still has some juice left in the tank, Ray could serve as a long-term solution at the position and not just a placeholder.

Furthermore, their numbers aren’t all that different over the last five years, conceivably making Ray the more attractive option given his age. Here’s a look at each of their numbers since 2015:

Robbie Ray, ARI

Year W L W-L ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO
2015-19 34 34 .500 3.84 107 588 519 251 75 261 720
Average 8 8 27 147 130 63 19 65 180

Cole Hamels, PHI, TEX, CHC,

Year W L W-L ERA GS IP H ER HR BB SO
2015-19 55 38 .591 3.72 147 893 817 369 110 313 851
Average 11 8 29 179 163 74 22 63 170

As you can see, the two seem to be on equal planes as far as production goes. Hamels obviously has been a lot more durable during this stretch- starting 40 more games than Ray. While Hamels’ durability is encouraging, especially deep into his 30s, it’s important to note that none of Ray’s injuries were arm-related. So his availability is more a result of dumb luck than his arm falling apart from use.

Breaking down from overuse is something I’m concerned with when it comes to Hamels, however, who has logged nearly 2700 career innings pitched across 14 big league seasons. Soon to be 36-years-old in December, Hamels is no spring chicken anymore and has to be nearing the end of his playing career soon. And, while I’m certainly not rooting for his decline, I think it’s a valid concern the Phillies should keep in mind.

After reflecting on the numbers, acquiring the much younger Ray for $11M seems like the wiser decision for a Phillies team desperately searching for viable starting pitchers. As far as the cost goes, the Diamondbacks are rumored to prefer a controllable pitcher, but also wouldn’t pass on the right bat. Either way, the Phillies should be in the mix for the lefty’s services.

Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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