TORONTO – Under different circumstances, this may have been the day fans of the Blue Jays rained on MLS champion Cy Young with applause. This was his chance to reconnect with his teammates who played with him in two playoff races and perhaps answer some questions about how close he is to re-signing in Toronto over the winter.
Instead, Robbie Ray was nowhere to be seen on Monday when the Seattle Mariners arrived in Toronto for their first of three games against the Blue Jays. His absence has raised some questions and may have answered some, but the reunion will have to wait until July, when the Blue Jays (and their thousands of fans) visit Seattle for four games.
Officially, the sailors gave no explanation for Ray’s absence. Scott Service, head coach, admitted Ray was not in Toronto and indicated he was expected to be in Boston, with Seattle heading next.
This is pretty clear: anyone entering Canada must now have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including professional athletes. As of this moment, Ray has not commented on his vaccination status. Meanwhile, MLB rules state that unvaccinated players will be placed on the restricted list where they will not receive pay or service time. But the MLB rules also include a clause that prevents teams from gaining an unfair advantage against the Blue Jays.
Those who have made at least four consecutive rounds of a game cannot be placed on the restricted list and replaced on the active list until three days have elapsed. That makes Ray, who played six runs on Sunday, ineligible. Otherwise, opposing teams can simply start time strategically and expand their seats or seats while in Toronto. It would be a small optional quest that would help everyone but the Blue Jays, so it’s not allowed under MLB rules (the National Interest exemption allowed non-immune players to play in Canada in 2021, but has since expired).
Whether this is what happens with seafarers is not a matter of public registration. But while Seattle’s right-handed Drew Stiknerrader was put on the restricted list on Monday, there was no such move for Ray. In practical terms, this means that sailors are on a par with Blue Jays. Ray, who signed a five-year, $115 million contract last winter, will continue to earn his full salary ($346,153 over the next three days for anyone who follows the track).
It’d be better if the struggling Blue Jays squad didn’t have to face Ray, who led the MLS with 248 attacks and 2.84 ERAs last year. When it’s on, a left-handed fastball combination can be devastating.
“Consistency,” Blue Jays Director Charlie Montoyo, recalls. “I remember he was always the same guy and he was hitting strikes with all his playing fields. When he put in his show, the whole team felt we had a chance to win today. We have Robbie Ray.”
“The rest is history,” concluded Montoyo. “It was really good.”
So far this year, results have been average for Ray, who has 4.62 ERAs through eight runs starting with 18 MLS-leading walks. However, from the Mariners’ perspective, there was value in having someone who could pull off roles and miss the bat.
“He meant a lot,” Service said. “I know he didn’t have the numerical type of season he had last year, but things are still very good. I think he had 26 or 27 flop and miss his stuff yesterday. He just had that bad run that affected every outing, but he gave us a chance to win. Almost every time he’s there he’s consistently giving six or more rounds. I don’t know a surviving director who wouldn’t take that.”
And of course Montoyo could say the same about Kevin Gusman, who has delivered like an ace since signing a similar five-year $110 million deal in Toronto. It’ll be a while before anyone can decide which of these deals will be better, but Blue Jays have reason to be excited with early returns from Gausman, who beat Ray by a large margin with a 2.40 ERA and 54 strike runs compared to two marches.
Regardless of whether Ray has been vaccinated, no matter how seriously the Blue Jays go after him during the winter, there will be tough decisions ahead for the Toronto front office as he looks to increase this roster over the summer.
This is true for all competing teams, but it is especially important here. Most of the time, a team arrives in Toronto, ending up with one or two players on the restricted list. But those teams can still replace anyone on the banned list before resuming business as usual after a few days. For the Blue Jays, non-immune players are essentially non-rookies as long as current travel restrictions are in place, a challenge that makes the pool of players they have available is the smallest in the MLB.