Brian Cashman and the Yankees have made it no secret that they’re looking to upgrade their starting rotation at the trade deadline. It’s also no secret that Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks is on their radar.
Mike Hazen, the Diamondbacks’ general manager, has suggested that his team could be willing to sell, despite their current standing a couple games back from a Wild Card spot. This has to be good news for a lot of teams in the market for pitching, as the suddenly red-hot Giants could pull Madison Bumgarner from the trading block.
The price for Ray, however, could be relatively steep, especially if he’s viewed by some teams as the top left-handed starting pitcher available. Ray’s 27 years old, he’s making only $6.05 million this season, and he’s under team control until 2021. A team-friendly contract, in addition to a solid 3.95 ERA, makes Ray an attractive upgrade to the Yankees’ rotation.
If the Yankee are able to swing a trade for Ray, they would be adding one of the MLB’s premier strikeout pitchers. Among qualified starters, Ray currently ranks fifth in baseball with an 11.85 K/9. That doesn’t mean he’ll step in and be the ace that carries the Yankees through the postseason, though. Ray also ranks third worst in MLB with a 4.24 BB/9 rate and ninth worst with a 19.1% HR/FB ratio.
In a lot of ways, you could view Ray as a version of James Paxton with a bit less command. That’s probably not something a lot of fans are excited to hear, but Ray’s current 2019 ERA and xFIP would both rank first in the Yankees’ rotation.
The comparable left-handed targets to Ray would be Mike Minor of the Texas Rangers and Matthew Boyd of the Detroit Tigers. Minor is having the most success of the three this season, but Ray has a more desirable track record, including an All-Star 2017 season. Minor also has a no-trade list that includes the Yankees, giving him the right to veto a deal between New York and Texas. Boyd is putting up numbers comparable to Ray this season, but also lacks the same track record of success. The selling point for Boyd is that he’s under team control through the 2022 season, but the Tigers’ asking price reportedly reflects that element of team control and then some. Of the three left-handers, Ray seems to best fit the Yankees’ plans moving forward.
What separates Ray from other trade targets is the additional upside that he flashed in 2017, when he posted a 15-5 record with a 2.89 ERA over 162.0 innings. At his best, Ray is capable of tearing through a lineup for six innings with double digit strikeouts. His high HR/FB rate and his propensity to lose control are significant concerns when the Yankees consider giving up valuable assets in a trade.
It will be up to Cashman and company to determine if Ray is enough of an upgrade over J.A. Happ or Domingo German to justify a deal, but the last thing they want is a repeat of the Sonny Gray trade from 2017. If you’re curious how Ray might handle the bright lights of Yankee Stadium, keep guessing. In five major league seasons Ray has pitched in 28 MLB parks, but never in the Bronx. He does, however, own a career 3.41 ERA on the road, offering hope that he could reach his ceiling away from Chase Field.