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3 best Robbie Ray free-agent destinations

Robbie Ray
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After re-signing with the Toronto Blue Jays last offseason, Robbie Ray became one of the best starting pitchers in MLB and took home the 2021 American League Cy Young Award. Coming off the perfect contract-year performance, he’s poised to cash in as one of the top MLB free agents.

Ray is one of the premier MLB players available on the open market. If he picks up where he left off this past season, the southpaw can be an ace-caliber starter for the foreseeable future and a workhorse in a perennial contender’s starting rotation.

Here are three ideal free agent destinations for Robbie Ray.

Related: Top MLB free agents of 2021-2022 – Contract predictions for Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and more

Chicago Cubs make big splash for rotation

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs went from having minimal payroll flexibility to the kind of maneuverability that will allow them to make several impact moves. Signing Ray could be a savvy way for them to restock their rotation.

In what’s a likely retooling effort, Chicago must improve its coaching staff. Kyle Hendricks is a safe bet to bounce back from a rough 2021 campaign, given his success at inducing weak contact in the past. Young starters Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills figure to make more strides in 2022. At the end of the day, though, manager David Ross needs more from his rotation.

Even if Ray is just 90 percent of what he was last season, he moves the needle for the Cubs’ rotation. He gives them a 1a/1b ace who strikes out hitters at a high rate, provides length and he brings postseason experience. Ray and Hendricks make for a sturdy one-two pitching punch while some of their younger starters find their way at the big-league level.

  • Robbie Ray stats (2021): 2.84 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 248 strikeouts across 193.1 innings (32 starts)

Despite trading away half of their starting lineup last summer (Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson), the Cubs had a respectable offensive attack down the stretch. As long as their offense continues to be a reliable force and perhaps the front office adds a considerable bat in free agency, a top-half rotation allows the Cubs to at least compete for a National League Wild Card seed.

With all that said, it’s possible that Chicago opts not to roll the dice on Ray taking a step back and/or having another injury hiccup in 2022 given their precarious standing; they may prefer to invest top-tier money in a more steady commodity.

Robbie Ray becomes the Los Angeles Angels missing piece

MLB: Game One-Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an annual offseason tradition, the Angels need starting pitching. They recently signed Noah Syndergaard, but doubling down on the pitching front in the form of signing Ray could finally get the Angels firmly in playoff contention.

Los Angeles is coming off another bad season so much so that Shohei Ohtani’s MVP season was a distraction. That’s how bad it was. With a fourth-place finish in the AL West as the background, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon played in a combined 94 games due to injury. As for the rotation, Dylan Bundy had a nightmare season and Griffin Canning regressed.

Syndergaard is a compelling way to start fixing the rotation, and Ray could repair it fully. The latter would provide manager Joe Maddon with an electric left-hander who provides a much-needed veteran presence. Ray performing to the tune of even a 3.50 ERA, Ohtani pitching efficiently, Syndergaard functioning and one of Jose Suarez and Patrick Sandoval building on their brief 2021 success give the Angels a top-10 rotation with upside.

  • Robbie Ray contract prediction: four-year, $100 million deal

Keep in mind, Syndergaard hasn’t made a full MLB start since September 2019. There’s no guarantee that he’s his old self with the Angels, furthering the idea of them adding another front-line hurler like Ray. A deep rotation accompanying an offense that features the likes of Ohtani, Trout, Rendon and Jared Walsh makes for a team with playoff expectations.

At some point, the Angels have to go all-in on constructing a championship team. However, the one factor that could prevent the Angels from signing Ray is them potentially not wanting to add another injury question mark to their roster and pitching staff in particular (Ohtani and Syndergaard).

Texas Rangers add Cy Young winner to young pitching staff

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers have an amplitude of payroll flexibility, and they need help across the board. Taking a leap of faith in Ray being an elite starter for the next few seasons is a risk they should be willing to take.

Texas needs starting pitching. There’s reason for them to be bullish about Dane Dunning and Spencer Howard and No. 2 pick Jack Leiter down the road, but they need established starters in the present. Any MLB team needs veterans to complement their youth, and Texas desperately needs that in its rotation.

The veterans are gone, as Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson were each traded away over the last year and some of the team’s reclamation projects of late (e.g. Mike Foltynewicz) haven’t panned out. Ray is manager Chris Woodward’s immediate ace. The former gets to anchor their rotation and prove that his 2021 heroics are a glimpse of what’s to come, rather than a career outlier. All the while, he can be someone who the young starters seek advice from.

Ray has been a force to be reckoned with at varying times throughout his MLB career. He can deceive hitters with his slider while effectively and often throwing his fastball. Last season was an image of what potentially could’ve been for Ray with the D-Backs had injuries and inconsistency not gotten in the way.

The Rangers have a lot of work to do when it concerns becoming a competitive team. Ray doesn’t resolve that issue on his own, but he can be one of the faces of a revamped Texas squad that aims to get on a prosperous path.