SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Robbie Ray is now the definition of a team seeing an opportunity to buy low and it working out.
He’s also now the definition of a player wanting nothing other than a one-year deal in order to bet on himself and it working out.
That was last November and this is now.
Today, the man with the 6.62 ERA and 45 walks in 51.2 frames during the shortened 2020 season is the 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner and also a pitcher who officially rejected the Toronto Blue Jays’ $18.4-million qualifying offer Wednesday in hopes of securing a megabucks long-term deal.
Thanks to his Cy season — the fourth pitcher in Blue Jays history to do it and fifth time it’s happened overall thanks to Roger Clemens’ dominant back-to-back effort — that’s going to happen.
Where Ray lands is the only question at this point, with a handful of teams interested in paying $20-plus million per season for the type of dominance the Jays just got for $8 million bucks.
As the aforementioned ERA shows, it was far from a linear path to get to this point for the 30-year-old Ray, who had shown flashes of filthy stuff combined with good results previously in his career.
How does a pitcher make such a dramatic turnaround?
When he re-signed with the Jays last November, he went to work.
“I was able to go into the off-season and I started working out almost immediately, started two-a-day workouts in the gym,” Ray said Wednesday evening after winning the award. “Not necessarily going out and throwing every day but definitely was working on my mechanics and fine-tuning some things. Kind of came up with the new delivery as far as the coil, which really wasn’t a new delivery, it was a past delivery that I had in 2012 and had slowly over the years kind of gotten away from it.
"It just felt right and it felt like I was in a good, strong position and going into spring training I saw the results almost immediately in my bullpen sessions as far as velocity and command and I just hit the ground running and everything kind of fell into place.”
Ray’s issues were no secret.
Walks and home runs had always held him back.
In addition to the off-season gym work and a revamped and repeatable delivery that Jays pitching coach Pete Walker helped him keep refined during the long season, a new mindset of attacking the zone tied it all together.
He always thought he had ace ability.
“Being elite is always on my mind,” Ray said. “I know that the stuff was there, it was just a matter of putting it all together. I mean, Cy Young is definitely on the radar, it was just a matter of falling together in place, the mental and the physical side of it. I knew if those two things came together that I could for sure do it.”
Ray plans to keep his off-season workout routine in place, trying to add weight and build strength. That’s no surprise given how well it worked and where he sits, on the verge of a payday.
He also believes his delivery changes have stuck and will continue to stick.
The mindset of filling up the zone with two elite pitches in his four-seam fastball and slider — batters hit .222 off the heater and just .173 off the slider this season — isn’t going to change, either.
As his free agency pitch across the league continues, Ray obviously doesn’t think there’s any regression coming.
After watching José Berríos ink a seven-year, $131-million contract extension this week, Ray says his camp is still talking to the Blue Jays on a regular basis.
“This doesn’t change anything for me,” Ray said of the Berríos contract. “Toronto’s still in the conversation. We’re still talking with Toronto on a daily basis and that’s just kind of where we’re at. But, also, we’re testing the free-agent market. This is a fun time and this is fun for me and my family to go through this process and we’re really enjoying it.”
If you’re a Jays fan wondering how to feel, it’s probably fair.
Celebrating a Cy Young season and then watching him walk as a free agent a few weeks later isn’t ideal, but there’s a chance that’s the case in the end.
“It was a lot of fun and, obviously, I love Toronto, but we’ll see where things go.”