Brooks Raley saw Rays as pitching ‘mecca’ and perfect fit

Lefty reliever, who could make $15.25 million over three years, is eager to improve under Tampa Bay tutelage.
The Rays’ advanced analytical and technical pitching programs helped convince Brooks Raley to sign with the team.
The Rays’ advanced analytical and technical pitching programs helped convince Brooks Raley to sign with the team. [ DUANE BURLESON | Associated Press ]
Published Nov. 30, 2021|Updated Dec. 1, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Brooks Raley did some pretty good work as a reliever for the Astros over the past two seasons.

But the opportunity to get even better is what led the left-hander to sign on with the Rays, finalizing a two-year, $10 million deal with a 2024 option.

Raley, 33, said the chance to benefit from the Rays’ advanced analytical and technical pitching programs, and to work with pitching coach Kyle Snyder and manager Kevin Cash, were very appealing. As is pitching in front of one of the league’s best defenses.

“It just felt like the perfect fit,” Raley said after signing his contract Tuesday afternoon. “This is kind of the next step for me. I feel like these guys are kind of the mecca of pitching and 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.”

Related: The reasons why Rays and Wander Franco were able to do a record-breaking deal

Raley said the Rays expressed their interest at the start of free agency, and while he talked with other teams he kept coming back to them as the right choice for him, his wife and three young daughters. He will get $4.25 million in 2022 and $4.5 million in 2023, with either a $1.25 million buyout or $6.5 million option for 2024.

“It was a very open, honest conversation,” Raley said. “They were like, ‘We want you,’ and I got to talk to Kyle and Cash early. And 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 for me — it was obviously a family choice first — and this just felt right.”

Brooks Raley says on a Zoom call from the Rays clubhouse he is excited about the opportunity to improve his game.
Brooks Raley says on a Zoom call from the Rays clubhouse he is excited about the opportunity to improve his game. [ Times ]

He said he is comfortable in the Rays’ no set role bullpen format, is open to pitching multiple innings and is especially looking forward to getting to pitch in high-leverage situations.

Raley ranked among the majors’ best last season with an average exit velocity of 83 mph, hard hit rate of 21.5 percent and strikeout rate of 31.7 percent, while going 2-3, 4.78 in 58 games, striking out 65 over 45 innings.

He had extraordinary success against lefties, using his combination of a slow curve and slider with horizontal movement and a cutter to allow just a .195 average (15 for 77, two extra-base hits) and .483 OPS, striking out 35 of the 85 he faced.

He wasn’t as good against right-handers, though he said he felt he did better than the numbers showed: a .259 average (28-for-108, 10 extra-base hits) and .796 OPS.

Plus, he and the Rays have already talked about ways to maximize his repertoire, such as throwing cutters to both sides of the plate and using his changeup more.

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“I’m really excited about the potential and the growth and the opportunities,” he said. “I just feel like there’s more in the tank and I want to grow as a player and as a person and I thought Tampa was a perfect fit for that.”

The Rays see a lot to like, and are counting on Raley to handle high-leverage situations. Plus with three of their other potential lefty relievers coming off injury (Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche, Jeffrey Springs), they liked having some top-shelf certainty.

“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,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said. “You all know us well enough 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.”

The Rays did some other business on Tuesday, getting “some certainty” at first base by negotiating a $3.2 million one-year deal with Ji-Man Choi (with a plan to look for another right-handed hitter), then tendering contracts to their 13 remaining arbitration-eligible players.

That included pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who is projected to make around $5.8 million even though he will spend the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, then a similar amount in 2023 when he returns to action with his innings monitored.

“The lost year is certainly unfortunate, but the ability level and our optimism about him getting on the other side of this surgery and getting back to who he was made this an easy call to tender him and to continue moving that forward,” Neander said. “We’ll see where it goes from there.”

Also tendered — with projected salaries by — are pitchers Ryan Yarbrough ($4.4M), Matt Wisler ($1.8M), Andrew Kittredge ($1.6M), Yonny Chirinos ($1.2M), Springs ($1M), Nick Anderson ($900,000), Beeks ($600,000); outfielders Manuel Margot ($5M), Austin Meadows ($4.3M), Brett Phillips ($1.2M); infielder Yandy Diaz ($2.7M); and catcher Francisco Mejia ($1.5M).

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