MLB insider Jeff Passan: What Robbie Ray deal signals for Mariners, what should be next

Dec 16, 2021, 12:07 PM
Mariners LHP Robbie Ray...
Robbie Ray of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the first inning of Game Two of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The Mariners were able to make one of the biggest moves of this MLB offseason prior to the lockout, inking reigning American League Cy Young Winner Robbie Ray to a lucrative five-year deal.

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Ray, 30, comes to Seattle from the Toronto Blue Jays and will anchor a rotation for a young and up-and-coming team aiming to end the longest active postseason drought in major North American professional sports.

So why did the Ray deal come together like it did? And what does that mean for the Mariners going forward? ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan joined Mike Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk Show Thursday morning.

Passan said that the Mariners-Ray deal likely came together because of how quickly some of the top names were starting to sign with new tearms.

“I think they got a little bit scared after there’s this big rush of guys off the board,” Passan said.

Passan also thinks that the Mariners were “miffed” that not only the market for free-agent middle infielder Marcus Semien was moving quickly, but that they weren’t as big of a contender for him as they’d initially anticipated. Semien wound up signing a seven-year deal with the Texas Rangers.

“Maybe it makes a little bit more sense for us to pivot, especially in light of (starting pitcher) Kevin Guasman costing $110 million (with the Blue Jays),” Passan said. “… If Gausman’s (costing $110 million), maybe we can get Robbie Ray for $115 million, and lo and behold, that’s exactly where they ended up.”

When talking to Salk prior to this offseason, Passan said that two free-agent pitchers who would have been perfect for the Mariners were veterans Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Scherzer wound up signing with the New York Mets on the most lucrative deal in MLB history in terms of annual dollars while Verlander re-signed with the Houston Astros.

“The point I was trying to make was they needed a top-of-the-rotation guy,” Passan said. “They weren’t going to get Scherzer there. He just wasn’t going to go to Seattle. And Verlander made it pretty clear it was either New York or Houston.”

But the Mariners did ink a top pitcher to a deal with Ray, which Passan said means an awful lot.

“The fact that the Mariners went out and got the best pitcher on the market not named Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander I think is a step in the right direction for this organization,”  he said. “To me, it illustrates how attractive (Seattle) is becoming to free agents.”

Passan also made a declaration about where he thinks the Mariners are going.

“Let me make this like abundantly clear – the Mariners are going to be really good,” he said. “I have not been someone who who has been willing to say things like that in the past, but I will shout it from the top of Mount Rainier now. They are going to be very good over the next five years.”

Obviously we’re still in the midst of a lockout and no major moves can happen until that is resolved. But when the lockout ends, what should the Mariners’ priority be?

“This may sound a little bit counterintuitive to focus not necessarily on free agents, but on your own guys,” Passan said.

Passan said that Mariners fans may not necessarily want to focus on locking up younger players because the long-term extension for first baseman Evan White hasn’t worked out so far, but he thinks Seattle should try and sign its two young outfielders to new deals.

“You do everything you can to get Julio Rodríguez and Jarred Kelenic locked up for 10 years. Period,” Passan said.

Kelenic, 22, made his MLB debut last year after entering the season as one of the five best prospects in baseball. The 2018 first-round pick had dominated at every level of the minor leagues before making his Mariners debut in May, and he had a pretty rocky rookie season overall, which included long hitless streaks and a demotion to Triple-A Tacoma. Overall, Kelenic slashed .181/.265/.350 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs in 93 games.

Kelenic did, however, finish the year strong with a .248/.331/.524 slash line in 29 games in September and October. He also hit seven home runs and drove in 20 runs. That surge was especially key as the Mariners were in postseason contention until the last day of the season thanks to late-season success.

Rodríguez, who turns 21 in two weeks, is considered one of the three best prospects in baseball. He, like Kelenic, has hit at every level and Rodríguez had a huge year in the minors in 2021, slashing .347/.441/.560 with 13 home runs and 21 steals in 74 games between High-A and Double-A.

Passan mentioned the San Diego Padres signing young shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. to a long-term megadeal and the Tampa Bay Rays inking former No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco to a new contract when discussing Rodríguez and his future.

“I think Julio Rodríguez especially is going to be that caliber of player. While I understand (he doesn’t play) a (premium defensive) position like Tatís and Franco at shortstop, the reality is he is that type of impact bat. To get him locked up, to me, that’s a greater priority than going out and say getting a Trevor Story or signing Kyle Schwarber or something along those lines, which is what could be (next) for the Mariners once the lockout does end.”

Listen to the full discussion with Passan at this link or in the player below.

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MLB insider Jeff Passan: What Robbie Ray deal signals for Mariners, what should be next