Report: Mariners finalizing deal with Cy Young winner Robbie Ray

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE- The Seattle Mariners are finalizing a contract with American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on Monday on the condition of anonymity because Ray still must undergo a physical and the deal has not been signed. ESPN.com first reported the sides were finalizing an agreement, expected to be for $115 million over five years.

Ray is coming off the best season of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, going 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA and 248 strikeouts in 193 1/3 innings. A left-handed power pitcher, Ray led the American League in ERA, games started, innings pitched and led all of baseball in strikeouts.

He immediately becomes the ace of the Seattle staff. Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert are also under contract for the 2022 season for an ascending Mariners team that went 90-72 last season and barely missed snapping the club’s 20-year playoff drought.

It’s the second major move of the offseason by the Mariners and probably not the last one. Seattle acquired second baseman Adam Frazier in a trade with San Diego on Saturday, the first in a series of moves the Mariners believe will make them a contender in the American League.

A chunk of what Seattle had available to spend on free agents is going to Ray.

Ray wasn’t even an All-Star in his first full season with the Blue Jays, which speaks to how dominant he was the second half of the year. Beginning with his start on July 11 against Tampa Bay, where he threw seven shutout innings, Ray had a 2.35 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 99 2/3 innings over his final 16 starts of the season. Ray pitched at least six innings in 12 of the 16 and allowed more than three earned runs only twice.

Ray was the clear choice for the Cy Young, earning 29 of 30 first-place votes to easily outpace New York’s Gerrit Cole.

It was a rebound season for Ray, who went 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.

Ray’s power arm always drew attention. He ranks No. 1 in major league history with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings (minimum: 1,000 innings), and he was an All-Star with Arizona in 2017.

But controlling his heat and sharp breaking pitches often was a problem, and Ray bottomed out in 2020. The dip caused his base salary to drop from $9.43 million to $8 million this year. He earned some of that back with a $125,000 bonus for winning the Cy Young, in part because Ray rediscovered his control. Ray walked just 52 batters with the Blue Jays.

Ray, who turned 30 on Oct. 1, made his major league debut with Detroit in 2014 and grew into a top starter during five full seasons in Arizona. Ray was an All-Star in 2017 when he went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts.

So far, Ray has been durable. He’s made at least 28 starts in four of the past five 162-game seasons. The only season he didn’t make at least 28 starts came in 2018 with the Diamondbacks.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.