Hyun-Jin Ryu is very arguably the top starter remaining on the free-agent market, though his injury history is a clear red flag despite the southpaw’s dominant showing over the past couple of seasons. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported earlier this week that Ryu was “expected” to top four years and $80MM on his next contract, but on this morning’s appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show (video link), Rosenthal indicated that multiple teams have since told him they were immediately skeptical of that price point: “I heard from a couple of clubs yesterday that said ’That’s not going to happen — not with that medical history.'”
Certainly, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a four-year pact for Ryu, but the pushback serves to underscore what makes Ryu such a polarizing free agent. The 32-year-old (33 in March) has a 2.21 ERA over his past 265 innings and a 2.71 ERA in 391 2/3 innings dating back to 2017. On a per-inning basis, he’s among the market’s elite options, but Ryu’s age and injury history likely have some teams steering clear of him on any type of notable multi-year arrangement. It only takes one team to push to four years, but to this point, his realistic price tag is hard to pin down.
More on Ryu and the rest of the pitching market…
- Ryu’s agent Scott Boras, who also represents lefty Dallas Keuchel, chatted with MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand about the two free-agent southpaws and (unsurprisingly) offered optimism that a deal could come together in the near future. “Clubs are identifying their needs, and we’re certainly narrowing the corridor of finality,” Boras said with characteristic idiosyncrasy. “It could happen soon.” Meanwhile, Bruce Levine of 670AM The Score/CBS Chicago writes that the White Sox are interested in both Boras lefties, also implying that the team might find it preferable to add a free-agent of that ilk rather than for a one-year rental (e.g. Robbie Ray). The ChiSox are still hopeful of reeling in a rotation upgrade but are wary of surrendering notable young talent for a one-year upgrade.
- The Diamondbacks’ decision to sign Madison Bumgarner wasn’t made as a precursor to a Robbie Ray trade, GM Mike Hazen tells Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Of course, it wouldn’t behoove any general manager to proclaim otherwise, and as Piecoro observes, nothing in Hazen’s comments expressly rules out the possibility of trading Ray, who’ll be a free agent next winter. Arizona moved Paul Goldschmidt under similar circumstances, when he had a year of control remaining and was set to be their second-highest-paid player. (Ray will actually be Arizona’s highest-paid player, given the backloaded nature of Bumgarner’s deal.) The strong demand for pitching and dwindling supply in free agency should make Ray a popular target and could position the D-backs to again pick up a controllable piece or two that’s near the big league level, as was the case in recent trades of Goldschmidt (Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly) and Zack Greinke (Corbin Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, Josh Rojas).
- Former Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has already made clear he won’t be hanging up his spikes. He’s “receiving interest” from teams, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports on Twitter, although the extent of that interest isn’t clear. Hernandez may be a former Cy Young winner who sat atop the hierarchy of baseball’s very best pitchers from 2009-14, but his decline into a back-of-the-rotation arm and, more recently, a liability on the mound was rather swift. Over the past two seasons, Hernandez has limped to a dismal 5.82 ERA / 5.44 FIP in 227 1/3 innings. The scintillating heater that averaged nearly 96 mph and scraped triple digits when he debuted as a babyfaced 19-year-old in 2005 has faded to an 89.5 mph average dating back to Opening Day 2018. A pitcher with Hernandez’s preternatural talent shouldn’t be totally counted out, particularly given that he won’t even turn 34 until April, but he’s purely a rebound candidate at this point.