In the CBA agreed to in 1995, there was a loophole. Scott Boras found it and took advantage. The loophole was that if teams didn’t offer their drafted players a contract within two weeks of the draft, the players would become free agents. Boras managed to use the loophole to turn several top draft picks into free agents. Most of the players in question signed with the teams who drafted them anyway. But a few others chose to test the market. Travis Lee signed with Arizona Diamondbacks for a record 10 million dollars. And Chuck LaMar and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed the high profile lefty Matt White for a new record 10.2 million dollars and another lefty, Bobby Seay, for 3 million dollars. White’s story ended without a major league game as injuries marred his promising career. Seay, meanwhile, was never as flashy as White but managed to carve out an 8-year big league career for himself.
Seay was selected by the Chiacago White Sox with the 12th overall pick in the 1996 MLB Draft out of Sarasota High School in Florida but declared a free agent based on the technicality and signed with the Devil Rays. Seay was a more polished lefty than White, featuring a sinker in the low-90′s and a very good slider.
In 1997, Seay made his pro debut at Low-A Charleston, going 3-4 with a 4.55 ERA, a 9.4 K/9, a 5.4 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 13 starts and 61.1 IP. His control was the big problem. In 1998, the Devil Rays sent Seay back to Charleston and the results were somewhat similar as he went 1-7 with a 9.7 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and 1.3 HR/9 in 15 starts and 69 IP. Then in 1999 between High-A and Double-A, Seay went 3-8 with a 4.14 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, a 4.6 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 17 starts, a relief appearance, and 74 IP. Ironically (compared to White), Seay looked like a bust. He couldn’t manage good control or command, leading to either walks or home runs.
But Seay finally broke out in 2000. In 24 starts and 132.1 IP, Seay went 8-7 with a 3.88 ERA, a 7.2 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 . His FIP was a solid 4.24. He also pitched for Team USA in the Sydney Olympics along with White, tossing 0.2 perfect innings as the Americans won Gold. Seay’s is best season was followed by a bizarre one. His performance was not great at all. He went just 2-5 at Double-A with a 5.98 ERA, a 6.8 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 1.3 HR/9 in 13 starts, 2 relief appearances and 64.2 IP. Yet at the end of the season, Seay made 12 big league appearances, posting a 1-1 record and 6.23 ERA. He actually struck out 12 while walking 5, but allowed 3 home runs. Taking out a couple of bad appearances, though, his ERA was a great 2.31.
Seay spent 2002 mostly in relief after inflammation in his left throwing shoulder, and he pitched well between Double-A and Triple-A, posting a 4.09 ERA, a 6.8 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 25 appearances, 3 of which were starts, and 50.2 IP. Then in 2003 at age 25, Seay finally found his form, going 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA, an 8.7 K/9, a 4.5 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 25 appearances and 30 IP. He ended the season in the big leagues, posting a 3.00 ERA in 12 appearances although he walked 6 compared to 5 strikeouts. In 2004, Seay’s experience was more of the same as he dominated at Triple-A, posting a 1.72 ERA, an 8.6 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 29 appearances (included a save) and 36.2 IP. Then in the majors for the Devil Rays, Seay pitched legitimately well, posting a 2.38 ERA, a 6.8 K/9, a 2.0 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 21 appearances spanning 22.2 IP. Bizarrely, though, lefties actually hit him better than righties, posting an .864 OPS compared to .591 against righties. The Rays cashed in on his value to acquire outfielder Reggie Taylor from the Colorado Rockies.
With the Rockies in 2005, Seay was a disaster in 17 big league appearances, posting an 8.49 ERA, an 8.5 K/9, a 6.2 BB/9, and a 2.4 HR/9. He missed quite a bit of time with a pectoral strain and an injury to his left pitching hand. He was a free agent after the season and signed with the Tigers. Seay struggled once again for the Tigers in 2006, posting just a 6.46 ERA, striking out 12 and walking 9 in 15.1 IP. Following the season, Seay re-signed with the Tigers. And the Tigers were rewarded for their trust in him.
In 2007, Seay was 29 year old. His career was at a crossroads. And he finally got his first extended chance in the big leagues. And he took advantage. Seay made 58 relief appearances spanning 46.1 IP in typical situational lefty fashion. And the results were outstanding. Seay went 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 46.1 IP. He held lefties to just a .209 batting average and a .545 OPS while righties posted a .250 batting average and a .707 OPS. His FIP was nearly as good as his ERA, coming in at 2.68. He registered 10 holds and a save. Seay would never be as good again.
In 2008, Seay was arbitration-eligible for the first time and his salary was bumped up to $450,000 to $780,000. But Seay went just 1-2 with a 4.47 ERA, a 9.3 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 60 relief appearances and 56.1 IP. He recorded 13 holds, but lefties actually had a .770 OPS against him compared to .711 from righties. Then in 2009, with his salary up to 1.3 million dollars, Seay went 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA, a 6.8 K/9, a 3.1 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 67 appearances and 48.2 IP. Lefties posted a .671 OPS against him compared to .721 from righties. He surpassed his previous career total with 28 holds. Following the season, Seay was arbitration-eligible for the third and final time and was signed by the Tigers for $2,475,000. But he would never pitch another game. Seay injured the labrum in his left shoulder and eventually required surgery that would end his career.
Bobby Seay has to be compared with Matt White. Their careers began in the same way and ended the same way: with shoulder surgery. Neither made it the way that the Devil Rays hoped. Cheaters never win. The Devil Rays tried to capitalize twice on a technicality and failed both times. But in Seay’s case, he managed to recover from his poor start and play out a nice career.