Arizona Diamondbacks: Robbie Ray Is Worth More Than James Paxton

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 27: Robbie Ray #38 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in the first inning during the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on June 27, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JUNE 27: Robbie Ray #38 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in the first inning during the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on June 27, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a gigantic trade piece in lefty hurler Robbie Ray –  what would take to pry him out of the desert?

The Arizona Diamondbacks are unwilling to trade lefty Robbie Ray without a major haul of prospects coming back to the desert, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The Mariners’ return for James Paxton is a close comparable, but even that haul wouldn’t be quite enough.

Whether Arizona’s hesitancy to move Ray is legitimate or posturing to ensure the largest possible return is unclear at this time – nor does it particularly matter – though it certainly seems the Dbacks have no intention to move Ray before the 2019 season. Both the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies have checked in about Ray thus far, per Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, and they’ve been unequivocally rebuffed.

Both Houston and Philly have the pieces it would take to make a godfather offer, but even if it came today, GM Mike Hazen might still wait until Dallas Keuchel comes off the board. Once Keuchel signs, there won’t be another top of the rotation lefty on the free agent market, which could make Ray the top target for teams still looking to bolster their rotations.

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The Mariners received three prospects from the Yankees in return for James Paxton, including one blue chipper in lefty Justus Sheffield. The question here, without a singular trade partner at present, is whether the Dbacks are reasonable to expect a better return should they move Ray.

Paxton, 30, is coming off back-to-back strong seasons and relative ace status in Seattle. Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin’s presence in Arizona allowed Ray to fly under the radar a little bit, which could hurt the perception of his acedom around the league, whereas the falloff by Felix Hernandez helped promote Paxton to the top of the Seattle rotation.

To his credit, Paxton has improved in both quality and durability in each of the last three seasons. Still, the 160 1/3 innings he accrued over 28 starts last year were both career highs – which pales in comparison to previous 200-inning norms – but barely registers as a dark mark given modern standards.

Robbie Ray’s durability numbers are comparable, if not better. Though he’s largely been healthy (recording 24, 28, 32 and 23 starts over the last four seasons) he’s only twice exceeded Paxton’s career-high innings mark and never exceeded 175 innings in a season. It’s close, but Ray has the edge.

Paxton comes to New York on a very reasonable estimated $9MM salary for 2019, and he will go to arbitration one more time before 2020. Ray is controllable for the same amount of time, though his contract is projected at $6.1MM in 2019.

Ray, 27, has the age advantage, and since Paxton was a super two player, his salary will continue to exceed Ray’s through 2020. In terms of exploring a contract extension, Ray’s age advantage might set him up for a bigger long-term contract, but he should also be the safer bet.

Ray is younger, cheaper, and more durable, but any team trying to acquire him via trade is likely to be a contender, so the quality of his innings in 2019 matters. Trade analysis centers on future value, but the present short-term value matters just as much, if not more. Simply, we have to ask: will Robbie Ray be better than James Paxton in 2019?

Baseball-reference projects Ray (with 75% reliability) for 138 innings at a 3.78 ERA in 2019. His strikeout rate projects at 11.3 K/9 versus 4.1 BB/9, balancing to a better overall K:BB ratio than in seasons past at 2.75 K:BB.

Paxton, meanwhile, projects for a 3.68 ERA over 154 innings, 10.3 K/9 versus 2.6 BB/9, good for an overall 4.00 K:BB ratio, a much better figure than Ray’s, which tracks with each of their career patterns.

Steamer thinks even more highly of Paxton, projects a 4.0 fWAR season in 2019 over 172 innings, while pegging Ray for a 3.2 fWAR season over 176 innings. Both systems put Paxton’s 2019 over Ray’s – but not by much, and not by enough to overcome Ray’s other advantages.

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All in all, the Arizona Diamondbacks should get at least as much back for Robbie Ray if they decide to move him, but it’s debatable exactly how much more. Given his youth and contract, the Diamondbacks won’t rush this. Then again, his youth and contract are the precise factors that could lull someone into an overpay, which is exactly what the Diamondbacks should be looking for.