No surprise, Brooks Raley looks like a good fit for Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — When Brooks Raley got the call from agent Keith Grunewald saying the Rays were among the first teams to express interest in him once free agency opened, the lefty reliever was rather surprised.

“Honestly, going into this offseason, I would have said the Rays would probably have been the team that wouldn’t call,” he said.

Raley had his reasons to be caught off-guard.

The Rays appeared to have plenty of relief options. The other teams in their division are primarily right-handed-hitter-heavy, lessening the need for lefties. Tampa Bay typically doesn’t spend much money bringing in relievers, and rarely on multi-year deals.

But once Raley, 33, started chatting with baseball operations president Erik Neander and other team officials and considering the success the Rays have had winning games and getting the most out of players, he was intrigued.

“Talking to Erik and just being very open, it’s rare in this industry to just kind of have a very transparent conversation, and that really impressed me,” Raley said. “Then to say, ‘Hey, you’re one of the big pieces that we want,’ it’s a little flattering when a guy has been a little bit of a journeyman at times. And they’ve lived up to that.”

Raley had his reasons to be sold.

The Rays saw a big role for him, working multi-inning stretches in high-leverage situations, including at the end of games. They were willing to pay him well, guaranteeing $10 million over two years with the opportunity, through a 2024 option, incentives based on usage and escalator clauses, for up to $19.35 million over three. And they made him feel wanted and comfortable.

“You see the track record, I think that speaks for itself,” Raley said. “And these guys will never tell you that — they’re very humble. So I think that was the first thing I did see, like, they never say, ‘We are the best,’ or any of that kind of stuff. They believe in you. You’re not here by accident. They love your stuff. They love everything you are.”

Raley signed just before the lockout went into effect on Dec. 2, so he didn’t get much time to talk with his new bosses. But he got a place in Tampa, started working out at Diesel Fitness with Shane McClanahan, Ryan Yarbrough and a few other new mates and transitioned well once camp finally did open.

“Talking to (pitcher) JP (Feyereisen) and a couple of those guys, I said, ‘What did they change?’ and (they said) ‘nothing, they just told me to throw strikes,’” Raley said. “So it’s really basic stuff, a lot of confidence kind of instilled through that and then through the process success comes and then you kind of build on those foundations.

“I liked a lot of the terminology they use. I liked how kind of relaxed it is. If you go about your business, you’ll be successful.”

The situation seems good for Raley, who has bounced around. He had a couple of short stints in the majors with the Cubs in 2012-13 after being drafted in 2009, spent 2015-19 in Korea as a starter for Lotte, returned to the majors in 2020 with the Reds and promptly got traded to the Astros.

The Rays got a sense then of what Raley can do, as he pitched against them four times in the seven-games-in-seven-days 2020 AL Championship Series and again last season. And they like what they’ve seen so far this spring, noting his ability to make at-bats tough on right-handers by running the ball inside.

“I’m glad we have him,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said following Raley’s sharp spring debut on Thursday. “That’s exactly what we thought we were getting. I know that was a really good inning, but just very efficient. Crisp. Has a plan that he can go out and execute. A lot of deception in there.”

Catcher Mike Zunino said there is no reason for anyone to be surprised the Rays made another good decision.

“I’ve come to the conclusion where I don’t question much of who they say their targets are. Their models are pretty dang good and pretty accurate,” Zunino said. “He’s going to be a heck of an addition. I think he’s going to be able to neutralize both righties and lefties in this division. Obviously, a great arm, and we have a knack of getting those here.”

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