This time last year, agent Scott Boras was waiting to see whether the Dodgers would issue southpaw Hyun-jin Ryu a qualifying offer at season’s end. The team did extend the offer, and Ryu accepted, betting that he’d be better off taking the big one-year payday and trying to turn in a big campaign in advance of a trip onto the open market.
That bet has paid off more handsomely than anyone expected, with Ryu turning in his best season as a big leaguer. Boras is understandably excited to market the starter at a high-point in value; the veteran agent tells Yonhap News that he’s angling for both a hefty salary and an extended length of contract. Is one more important than the other? “That’s like saying, with a car, do want the engine or the steering wheel?” says Boras. “You want both.”
Ryu couldn’t have scripted things better on the field in 2019. He was unbelievable for almost the entire year, outside of a few rough starts in late August. All told, Ryu spun 182 2/3 innings of 2.32 ERA ball with 8.0 K/9 against just 1.2 BB/9. Opposing hitters managed only an 85.3 mph average exit velocity and 30.8% hard-hit rate.
Now, Ryu will enter free agency on the heels of a fully healthy and productive season — and without the drag of draft compensation, since he cannot be issued a second qualifying offer. Boras says the southpaw was not only “the best pitcher in the league,” but “we’re just beginning to see the real Ryu.”
There has never been much question of Ryu’s ability, as he has been steadily excellent since coming over from his native Korea in 2013. But he hasn’t always been available owing to arm and other maladies. Ryu missed almost all of the 2015-16 seasons and half of 2018. That’s a red flag for a team considering a lengthy and lucrative outlay.
Never one to allow a bad fact to get him down, Boras posits a silver lining bright enough to blind one from seeing the storm cloud that renders it. Ryu’s injury history is, per Boras, a blessing in disguise: “He is, age-wise, 32, but the truth is, innings-wise, he’s probably about 26 or 27, because he doesn’t have many innings on his arm. That makes him very valuable.”
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the market situation plays out for Ryu. The Dodgers continue to make sense for him, particularly given the team’s predilection to employ highly talented but injury-prone starters. Which other teams will follow suit, and to what extent, isn’t clear. There’s obviously both upside and downside to a pitcher of this ilk — a premium vehicle with low miles but a lengthy history of time spent in the mechanic’s shop, to extend Boras’s auto analogy.