After accepting a one-year, $17.9MM qualifying offer last winter, lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu is slated to fully explore the open market for the first time in his career. The NL Cy Young runner-up won’t have the burden of draft-pick compensation attached to his name, as he would’ve had he rejected last year’s offer, and he told reporters in his native South Korea this week that he’s hoping to sign a three- or four-year deal wherever he lands (link via Jee-Ho Yoo of the Yonhap News Agency).
Ryu’s decision to accept that qualifying offer looks to have paid off in spades, as the southpaw not only took home a rather hefty one-year salary in 2019 but also strengthened his open-market case with the finest season of his Major League career. In 29 starts and a total of 182 2/3 innings, Ryu worked to a pristine 2.32 ERA (3.10 FIP, 3.32 xFIP) with 8.0 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 0.84 HR/9 and a 50.4 percent ground-ball rate. He may very well have won the NL Cy Young Award had it not been for a brief IL trip due to discomfort in his neck and some ensuing struggles in his return. Ryu yielded 21 runs (45 percent of his season total) in a span of 19 innings from Aug. 17 through Sept. 4 before rebounding with a trio of strong, seven-inning outings to close out the season.
At this point, Ryu says he’s entrusting agent Scott Boras to handle everything pertaining to his free agency, although Ryu did add that he doesn’t believe there have been many talks about a reunion with the Dodgers. That could change quickly, of course, and the Dodgers will surely gauge the asking price and market competition for Ryu — as they figure to do with virtually every free agent of note. Ryu also expressed gratitude in reference to recent comments made by countryman Shin-Soo Choo, who last week revealed that he’d pushed the Texas front office to look into signing Ryu. The 32-year-old Ryu (33 in March) said it would be “special” to play with a fellow Korean on the same big league club.
Whether a three- or four-year deal is possible will of course depend on the competition for Ryu’s services this winter. He ranks among the best available in terms of sheer talent, as evidenced by the otherworldly 2.21 ERA he’s notched in his past 265 big league innings dating back to Opening Day 2018. But Ryu’s next contract will begin with his age-33 campaign, and he carries with him an extensive injury history that’ll give plenty of teams pause.
Ryu had Tommy John surgery before he was even drafted in the Korea Baseball Organization, and he’s had a pair of surgeries since jumping to MLB as well: a shoulder operation to repair his labrum in 2015 and an elbow debridement procedure in 2016. Ryu pitched just 4 2/3 MLB innings from 2015-16 as a result of those two surgeries. He’s also had some hip troubles in the past, and in 2018 he was limited to 82 2/3 innings after suffering a gruesome injury when he tore a muscle in his groin clear off the bone.
Durability and age are the clearest red flags for Ryu as he and Boras look for a new contract this winter, but the lefty is one of the most impactful arms on the market. For a team that is reluctant to surrender draft picks by inking pitchers who received a qualifying offer, he’s the best available option. Ryu ranked ninth on MLBTR’s Top 50 free agent rankings earlier this month (wherein we predicted a three-year, $54MM deal with the Rangers).