The top tier of the free agent pitching market has been shorn away. Gerrit Cole ($324MM), Stephen Strasburg ($245MM), and Zack Wheeler ($118MM) all handily outpaced our guarantee projections from earlier this offseason, leaving an open question: what about the best of the rest? With Jake Odorizzi and Cole Hamels accepting a qualifying offer and an early deal, respectively, the market’s current top starters are likely Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Dallas Keuchel.
We’ve already heard that Bumgarner is looking to shoot over the $100MM threshold, and one team has reportedly provided him with a $70MM floor. Keuchel, solid pitcher though he is, comes back to the open market on the heels of a prorated Atlanta season that saw him pitch to a 4.72 FIP–the $39MM projection we tagged him with back in November still feels like a reasonable ballpark. But where do recent developments leave Ryu?
Simply scanning reader comments on any Ryu-related article this offseason would lend you a pretty solid sense of the wide range of opinions surrounding Ryu’s left arm. There’s no question that arm is effective–you don’t pitch to a career 2.98 ERA or sub-2.00 career BB/9 rate without a surgical level of skill. There’s also no question the former KBO standout is hitting the market at the right time. If Cole can parlay a second-place Cy Young finish into a record-setting free agent payday, what prize should remain for the award’s NL runner-up?
The answer to that question will likely hinge upon how risk-averse front offices will feel as they survey the market’s remaining options. Few pitchers hit free agency free of some historical health concerns (Strasburg and Wheeler included); at the same time, Ryu has hardly been a picture of durability to this point in his major league career. Since coming to L.A. in advance of the 2013 season, Ryu has made 125 starts in seven seasons–an average of 17.8 starts per year. Then again, maybe that’s not a fair depiction: it may be more accurate to simply say that shoulder and elbow surgeries limited him to one appearance from 2015-2016, while he was likewise limited to just 15 starts in 2018.
But for teams looking for premium performance, the 32-year-old Ryu has a clear leg up on just about anyone currently available. He’s logged two consecutive seasons in the top five percent of pitchers in terms of walk rate and he induces ground balls at a very healthy clip. According to Statcast, he’s almost unmatched when it comes to limiting hard contact: hitters managed just an 85.3 mean exit velocity against Ryu’s five-pitch arsenal last year, a mark that ranked in the game’s top four percent. He just won the ERA title, after a 2018 campaign that saw him post a 1.97 earned run average in 15 starts. You get the picture–Ryu is very good at pitching, when healthy.
In advance of the 2017 season, the Dodgers signed lefty Rich Hill to a three-year, $48MM deal. To that point, Hill had twice exceeded the 100-inning threshold at the major league level in a 12-year career. He was set to turn 37 the following spring. To boot, that deal took place three years ago and in advance of several record-setting contracts for open-market pitching. The question is: what does a high-performing, oft-ailing pitcher deserve three years on from when Hill secured $48MM in guarantees? We predicted three years and $54MM for Ryu at the winter’s outset, but, in the wake of this offseason’s events (and considering the Wheeler deal, especially) there seems to be a fair argument that his horizons have expanded. The Twins, Dodgers, Blue Jays, and Cardinals have all been specifically linked to him in recent weeks.
We put it to you: which team is best positioned to take a chance on him, and what kind of contract does he figure to receive?
Where will Ryu sign? (Poll link for app users)
How long will the contract be? (Poll link for app users)
What will the total guarantee be? (Poll link for app users)