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The Cardinals Should Look at Robbie Ray

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

In my previous article, I wrote about how the Cardinals can afford to be patient. I believe that this patience might cause the team to wade into the trade market which is ripe with rumors. The Cardinals inked KBO star Kwang-hyun Kim on Tuesday to a low-risk deal (two years, $8 million) with high-reward potential. But as we know: a team can never have enough pitching depth, and so the rumor mill keeps churning.

A potential trade of Robbie Ray from the Arizona Diamondbacks is among the several rumors that seems to be gaining more traction. If the Diamondbacks are currently shopping the left-hander, then the Cardinals should consider acquiring him.

This rumor seems to be more complicated after the Diamondbacks signing of Madison Bumgarner to a reported five-year, $85 million contract. This leaves the starting rotation in Arizona with a multitude of options. Interestingly, the Diamondbacks will likely have three former Cardinals in their starting rotation (Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver, Mike Leake) as well as Merrill Kelly, and a couple of younger options as well. It certainly seems like they would be well-suited to trade Robbie Ray, especially if they are not planning on re-signing him after 2020. The signing of Bumgarner essentially allows them to replace Ray in the rotation while using the 28-year-old as trade bait in order to improve another area of the team.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo has already spoken about improving his outfield this offseason. Arizona has a number of decent outfield prospects, but none of them are close to big-league ready. So, Arizona appears to be in the market for at least one or two outfielders that can play alongside breakout star Ketel Marte. This makes the Cardinals logical trade partners, as they have a strong supply of young, MLB-ready outfielders.

Lane Thomas, Harrison Bader, Randy Arozarena, Tyler O’ Neill, Justin Williams, and Adolis Garcia (to a lesser extent) could all potentially provide solutions to the lack of outfield depth in Arizona’s organization. The Cardinals also have Dylan Carlson, who likely has an outfield spot reserved for him whenever he is ready to claim it. It is impossible for all of these outfielders to start for the Cardinals, especially with Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez still on the roster. While depth is important for a team to have, the Cardinals could live without one or two of these young outfielders, especially if it allows them to significantly improve the rotation.

With uncertainty as to Kim’s role (starter or reliever) and question marks in Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright, the rotation could definitely use some aid. Certainly, Ray’s 12.13 K/9 and 3.76 xFIP (4.34 ERA, 4.29 FIP) would strengthen the team’s rotation and provide a level of certainty that is not currently present.

Ray would fit in St. Louis for many reasons. He is left-handed, and that is almost always appealing. Ray also boasts an extremely high strikeout rate, and that is something that is generally not seen from the Cardinals starting rotation. (Not counting you, Jack Flaherty.) Ray can also be expected to experience some positive regression. While he walks too many hitters (4.34 BB/9), Ray was punished by the long ball at an inflated rate last season. His HR/FB ratio of 20 percent last season was five percent greater than his career average and occurred despite his ranking in the 77th percentile in average exit velocity. While some of this can be attributed to the inflated home run environment around the league and the juiced ball, it is likely that Ray’s HR/FB rate will drop next season. Nevertheless, it is fair to be concerned as the ball is likely not going to change next year.

At the very least, Ray can be expected to tally high strike out numbers and a high-3 to low-4 ERA with the potential for something lower. However, If he can return to his 2017 levels of production, then the Cardinals will have found a steal on the trade market.

Another reason that he makes sense for the Cardinals is his contract. Ray is under team control for one more year, as he is eligible for arbitration for the final time this offseason. Ray is projected to make around $10-11 million next year. This is very affordable for a dependable starting pitcher who has tossed more than 160 innings in three of the last four seasons.

The Cardinals also have a history of trading for players with one year left on their contracts and then re-signing them. This could be a possibility for the team if they decided to pull the trigger and acquire Ray.

Ray would help the Cardinals fight to maintain their position at the top of the division in 2020, as the Cubs, Brewers, and Reds appear to be threatening the defending NL Central champions.