Rays sign lefty reliever Raley to 2-yr. deal

December 1st, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- As they worked to create space on their overloaded 40-man roster the past month, the Rays parted ways with much of their left-handed relief depth. Out went Ryan Sherriff, Cody Reed, Adam Conley and Dietrich Enns. Back came a few lefty relievers who finished the season on the 60-day injured list: Jeffrey Springs, Colin Poche and Jalen Beeks.

Speaking at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month, president of baseball operations Erik Neander noted the Rays were confident in their existing left-handed bullpen options but looking to "build that group up further as well." They did so on Tuesday by signing lefty reliever .

Raley's deal is for two years and $10 million guaranteed, with a club option for 2024. He will earn $4.25 million in '22 and $4.5 million in ’23, and his $6.5 million option can be bought out for $1.25 million.

“The chance to get someone we feel is an upper-echelon lefty to pitch out of the 'pen and really solidify that group was important. We didn’t want to only rely on pitchers coming back from injury,” Neander said Tuesday night. “We’ll see how everything else sorts itself out, but this is somebody that … if we’re making this type of commitment out there in the 'pen, it’s because we see a lot of potential impact and somebody that’s going to be critical for us to win games and hold them down late.”

Speaking on a Zoom call from Tropicana Field on Tuesday afternoon, Raley referred a few times to his desire to become “the player I want to be.” He thinks the Rays can help him do that, and the Rays -- who don’t often hand out multiyear deals to relievers -- clearly believe he’ll help them.

“I feel like these guys are kind of the mecca of pitching,” Raley said. “[Pitching] labs and all the stuff that's so attractive in the game now and where it's going, and I just want to be part of it. Felt like we found common ground and made it all work.”

Indeed, the Rays have a track record of unlocking pitchers’ potential and getting the most out of their arms. Raley said he’s observed Tampa Bay from across the field, especially when his former Houston club matched up with the Rays in the postseason. The Rays’ desire to contend and World Series aspirations appealed to Raley as much as their history with pitchers under manager Kevin Cash, pitching coach Kyle Snyder and bullpen coach Stan Boroski.

“I did kind of talk to several teams right out of the gate, but I would say the Rays were right there. It was a very open, honest conversation. They were like, 'We want you,' and I got to talk to Kyle and Cash early,” Raley said. “After those conversations, I was just like, 'You know, this feels like a good fit. We'll kind of continue to test the market and whatnot.'

“But as things got closer and talking to other teams, that just kind of kept coming up: I've always wanted to be the best player I could be. … And I'm really happy with our decision and excited to get to work.”

Raley spent last season with the Astros and pitched better than his 4.78 ERA might indicate. He struck out 65 and walked only 16 in 49 innings over 58 appearances, picking up two saves along the way. Among pitchers who allowed at least 100 balls to be put in play, Raley had the lowest hard-hit rate in the Majors (21.5 percent) and only the Dodgers' Victor González had a lower average exit velocity (82.4 mph) than Raley's 83 mph mark.

“We looked at the progression over the last couple of years and really liked what we saw -- the repertoire itself, the command, the depth of the repertoire,” Neander said. “In the most simple terms, it’s a lefty that strikes out a lot of hitters, he throws strikes and doesn’t walk many hitters, and he hasn’t been hit hard.”

The 33-year-old was especially tough on left-handed hitters this past season, as they slashed just .195/.262/.221 with 35 strikeouts, four walks and only two extra-base hits (both doubles) in 85 plate appearances against him. Right-handers gave Raley a little more trouble, meanwhile, slashing .259/.333/.463 with six homers in 120 plate appearances. He finished the season strong, putting together scoreless outings in 11 of his last 12 appearances and posting a 1.93 ERA in 21 games after July 26.

Raley isn't a particularly hard thrower, with a cutter that averaged 87.7 mph last season and a fastball that runs around 91 mph, but he features elite spin on his pitches. Raley's fastball spin rate was in the 92nd percentile in the Majors last season, and his curveball's spin rate was in the 95th percentile. He expects he’ll use his changeup and cutter more with the Rays as part of his development as a pitcher.

Those attributes make Raley an intriguing option for Cash, who mixes and matches Tampa Bay's heavily used bullpen as well as anybody in baseball. And the Rays once again figure to have a deep relief corps that now features plenty of left-handed options in Raley, Springs, Poche and Beeks, alongside returning high-leverage right-handers Andrew Kittredge, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, JT Chargois, Ryan Thompson, Matt Wisler and Nick Anderson, when healthy, among others. Raley said he’s always wanted to be a high-leverage reliever, but he’s willing to pitch in any role.

“I definitely want to be the best version of me in those situations,” Raley said. “I get a lot of whiffs. I get soft contact and I feel like it's one of the best defenses in baseball, so a lot of things line up to kind of help me be the best player I can be, but also help this team win a championship.”