SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners were still in the middle of finishing their first big deal of the offseason when they started making an aggressive move to land a new ace for their pitching rotation, a signing that would grab even more attention.
Once Robbie Ray expressed an interest, it was a quick process to bring the American League Cy Young Award winner to Seattle.
“It just seemed like a really good fit and we were ready to move forward,” Ray said Wednesday, a day after signing with the Mariners. “I mean, it happened really quickly, but we’re glad that it did.”
After the best season of his career, Ray is seen by Seattle as a major piece to help move the Mariners from unlikely postseason contenders to playoff regulars for years to come.
Ray has a powerful top of the rotation arm and fills one of the needs Seattle identified going into the offseason. Combined with what Seattle already has and a handful of top prospects on the way, the Mariners are taking on the look of an ascending ballclub.
“I think that’s one of the main attractions for us is we want to be the team where, when other teams are coming to Seattle to play us, they look at the three pitchers or the four pitchers that are lined up for that series and they say, ‘Oh man,’” president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said.
Ray’s $115 million, five-year deal includes an opt-out after the third year, something Dipoto said is “getting in line with the times” and was worth adding to make sure the deal was completed.
Dipoto said initial contact with Ray’s representatives took place before Thanksgiving and the first virtual meeting between the sides happened last Friday morning — at the same time Seattle was putting the finishing touches on trading for All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier. Dipoto said manager Scott Servais exclaimed “That’s the guy” when the meeting on Ray ended.
Seattle’s first offer was close to the final number, accelerating the process.
“We made a very strong push immediately,” Dipoto said. “These things build toward a crescendo in the negotiation. We went out pretty hard with our first offer and I think we caught his attention, and then it got very serious quickly.”
This was a rebound season for Ray, who had gone a combined 2-5 with a 6.62 ERA for Arizona and the Blue Jays and issued the most walks in the majors during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The dip led Ray’s base salary to drop from $9.43 million to $8 million this season.
But the mechanical changes Ray made to his delivery clearly worked in 2021 and he believes they can be replicated.
Ray led the American League in several categories, including ERA and games started, and led all of baseball in strikeouts with 248.
He also put together the best season ever stranding runners. According to the Mariners, 90.1% of runners that reached base against Ray failed to score in 2021, the highest percentage since 1901 with at least 150 innings pitched.
“I’ve always had the mindset of going out and attacking. But it didn’t necessarily match up with the delivery,” Ray said. “This year, I feel like I really nailed that down and I feel really good about the consistency of the delivery. That consistency, matched with that mindset, I feel like is what allowed me to succeed this year.”
NOTES: Seattle signed reliever Andrés Muñoz to a four-year contract through the end of the 2025 season that includes club options for 2026-28. The 22-year-old right-hander appeared in just one game at the end of last season while continuing his recovery from Tommy John surgery, but Seattle views him as a key piece of its bullpen going forward. … Dipoto said the Mariners have met via video conference with Japanese OF Seiya Suzuki. “I don’t know where that will lead. But I can tell you, we’re interested. He’s a great player,” Dipoto said.