There has been widespread interest in left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has become even more of a prized commodity since he is now the only starting pitcher remaining within the top 38 players on MLBTR’s list of the offseason’s top 50 free agents. The current field of suitors appears to consist of seven teams, as listed by MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link), give or take one unconfirmed team and, of course, the ever-popular “mystery team.”
Heyman’s list includes several teams who have been already linked to Ryu at earlier points this winter — the Dodgers, Angels, Blue Jays, and Twins. The “mystery team” could be the Braves (who are known to some level of interest in Ryu, though perhaps only peripherally), Heyman guessed, though he doesn’t mention the Cardinals, who were said to be considering Ryu two weeks ago. Since that report, however, St. Louis added another pitcher in Korean southpaw Kwang-Hyun Kim, who came at a much lower price tag than Ryu (though, obviously, without the MLB track record). With Kim in the fold, it could be that the Cards feel their rotation mix is set, and Ryu is no longer a target.
The other teams mentioned in Ryu’s market are two new faces, as Heyman writes that the Padres and “possibly [the] Phillies” could have interest. While the two clubs have yet to be connected to Ryu this offseason, it isn’t surprising that either San Diego or Philadelphia would be looking in, given how both teams have been looking to upgrade their respective rotations.
The Phils already made one big splash in signing Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118MM contract. However, Wheeler is only one addition to a pitching staff that generated 7.6 total fWAR (23rd in the majors) in 2019. Wheeler and Aaron Nola are a good top-of-the-rotation pairing, though the remaining options of Jake Arrieta and two of the Zach Eflin/Vince Velasquez/Nick Pivetta trio aren’t terribly inspiring, given how these arms all struggled last season. Ryu would be a nice addition to any staff, but he would especially help the Phillies keep pace with the other loaded rotations in the NL East.
Since the Phillies already have a projected payroll (just under $205.4MM, as per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource) that sits just barely under the $208MM Competitive Balance Tax threshold, however, it remains to be seen if the club is willing to surpass the threshold for another star player like Ryu. Philadelphia was reportedly looking to be more “opportunistic” with their future signings to avoid the tax, though the team could take the one-year hit while staying in the first level of tax penalties, which is a CBT number of less than $228MM. Arrieta, Didi Gregorius, and David Robertson all come off the books after the 2020 season, so the Phillies could duck back under the tax threshold after just one year.
The CBT isn’t a concern for the Padres, though payroll itself is an issue, as the club has reportedly been trying to deal Wil Myers’ contract for weeks. Despite having some level of financial limitation in place, San Diego has been looking for frontline pitching for over a year, mostly on the trade front given how the Padres have so many strong minor leaguers to offer as trade chips. The Padres have also explored free agent signings, and Ryu is clearly a known quantity after facing him for so many years in a Dodgers uniform. Adding an experienced veteran like Ryu to the young staff could make the Padres more open to move other younger arms (if not the trio of Chris Paddack, MacKenzie Gore, or Luis Patino) as part of future trades to bring salary relief, perhaps attached to Myers as sweeteners in a deal.