As we continue to worry about ongoing rumors that the Dodgers may be heavily interested in surrendering a first round pick to pay 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda $14m or more, let’s continue the search for starting pitching by looking again to Asia, this time at 25-year-old Korean lefty Hyun-jin Ryu.
Wait, who? (Yes, get your borderline offense “HADOOKEN!” jokes out of your system now.) Ryu’s probably a new name for most of you, and he came to my attention after reading that the Cubs (and likely several other teams) officially submitted a posting bid to acquire him from the Hanwha Eagles yesterday. As we’ve discussed several times here – most recently in regards to Shohei Otani & Kyuji Fujikawa - the new CBA has changed the international landscape significantly. Yasiel Puig was the last of his kind, the big-ticket global free agent marketing his promise for the biggest score he can get, and now all amateur signings must fall under the very limited international signing budget each team has allotted.
But Ryu, as a player who is older than 23 and with at least five years of pro experience in his home country, doesn’t fall under that rule. Much like Yu Darvish last year and Daisuke Matsuzaka & Kei Igawa in years past, an MLB team submits a blind posting bid to their Asian counterpart, and if they win, that money goes to the Asian team while the MLB team then directly negotiates with the player’s agent… which in this case, is Scott Boras. Call it a loophole if you must, but there’s essentially no limit to how much a team can spend in this situation. If you’re a wealthy team looking to make an international splash without financial restrictions in an environment where it’s been made more difficult to do that, this is how you do it. (To clarify, the player has no say here in what MLB team he goes to, unlike Otani or older Japanese players like Kuroda or Takashi Saito who were true free agents. His home team picks the largest bid, and that’s that.)
So while I can’t tell you for sure that the Dodgers submitted a bid, this seems like exactly the sort of thing that they’d be interested in given Stan Kasten’s interest in the international market, and this Korean report claims that they, along with the Phillies, Cubs, Rangers, & Indians have already shown “concrete interest”. I suppose I can’t say “concrete interest” is the same as “submitted a bid,” though we know the Cubs did. Honestly, if the Dodgers didn’t submit a figure, I’ll be shocked, so this is something we need to be paying attention to since he could be LA property by the end of the weekend.
That all said, who is Ryu? He turns 26 in March, and has been a Korean All-Star in each of his seven seasons there. In five of those years, with the exception of 2008 & 2011, he led the league in strikeouts; he’s also notable for having gone 8 1/3 innings in helping Korea to beat Cuba for the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Let’s piece together some of the limited information across the web, because it’s not like I’m going to pretend I’ve seen him and have a personal scouting report for you.
Ryu had Tommy John surgery while in high school. Making 20 million won ($21,520), Ryu dominated the KBO for the 2006 Hanwha Eagles. He went 18-6 with one save and a 2.23 ERA while striking out 204 in 201 2/3 innings. He became the first player in the 25-year history of the KBO to be named Rookie of the Year and win the Korea Baseball Organization MVP award in the same season.
Ryu, who is represented by Scott Boras, has been one of the league’s most dominant pitchers since making his debut as a teenager. He first garnered attention by helping South Korea to Olympic gold in 2008 and a second place finish in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the fifth best prospect in the tournament, one spot ahead of Yoenis Cespedes. “Ryu has four average to above-average pitches, (including) a 86-93 mph fastball with late life that he can add and subtract from when needed, a slow curve (75 mph), a tighter slider and a changeup,” wrote the publication. “Ryu’s biggest asset is his feel for pitching. Scouts have said that he would be a first-round pick if he was in the U.S.”
Baseball America says Ryu has drawn a bunch of David Wells comparisons because he’s a four-pitch lefty with command and has a history of pitching well in important games (especially internationally), plus his personality is a little wacky and he’s kinda fat.
Keith Law, ESPN.com:
Ryu will be posted by his KBO team, the Hanwha Eagles, and should attract interest from just about every club because of his potential as a reliever who can get hitters on both sides of the plate out.
He is a thick-bodied lefty who has been a starter in Korea, working with a drop-and-drive delivery but with very late elbow pronation, and in the rotation his fastball is just average at 88-91. He does have a plus changeup with good arm speed and a fringy curveball in the upper 70s, which is a better left-on-left option right now than his slider. I don’t love the arm action and he had Tommy John surgery when he was in high school, but if he moves to the bullpen he could work in the low 90s with an out pitch in the change, a better option than being a back-end starter with some question about durability.
Jin isn’t considered a top-of-the-rotation pitcher like Darvish was and certainly wouldn’t command the same kind of posting fee ($51.7 million). But he is young, stout and left-handed. He averaged 62/3 innings per start and compiled a 2.66 ERA for the last-place Eagles in 2012. He’s averaged 3.63 strikeouts per walk over the last three years. The scouting report: He won’t overpower many hitters, but will command his excellent changeup and can hit the low 90s with his fastball.
In 2010, he set the Korean record by striking out 17 in a nine inning game. Video? Video:
Considering his age and his skill, there’s a lot to like here, though it’s interesting to see that Law likes him more as a reliever. (Though I respect him greatly, Law is notoriously pessimistic about these things, preferring to be surprised when a player does better than he expected rather than worse, so keep that in mind.) He’s not the Greinke-like ace we’ve been hoping for to pair with Clayton Kershaw, so keep expectations in check, but as a youthful lefty with a good history, a plus change-up, and the ability to control his age 26-31 seasons, yeah, that’s more than a little intriguing.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to guess what the cost might be in these situations. As the articles above state, the posting fee isn’t going to be anywhere near the $51.7m Darvish’s team got; if it was, you’d have heard about him before today. Considering that Ryu projects to be a good-but-probably-not-elite pitcher in MLB, I’d be surprised if it’s even half of that. So a ballpark might be… $15m-$20m? That might sound like a lot simply for the right to talk to him, but remember that the Korean team is doing this simply for profit, not because they’re excited about losing one of their best pitchers. Throw in the blind bid process, where it’s difficult to know what your competition is aiming for, and it’s not hard to see a posting fee that could exceed $20m.
Of course, then you also need to sign him to a contract, though the player has little leverage there. Darvish got 6/$56m, though again Ryu is not seen as being in Darvish’s league. The Orioles picked up Taiwanese lefty Wei-Yin Chen last year for three years and just under $12m, though he wasn’t as touted as Ryu and was a true free agent. So perhaps this falls somewhere in between; still, even if the total outlay here is $45m-$50m between posting fee and contract, maybe that’s not so bad when you consider that Anibal Sanchez is now apparently asking for $90m over six years.
Bids had to be submitted yesterday afternoon, so the decision is in the hands of the Eagles now. They have four days to make a choice, and then the winning team has 30 days to sign him. (The posting fee does not change hands if a contract cannot be completed, though that is rare.) That means we’ll know which team won the rights by Monday, if not sooner. Might it be the Dodgers? I feel like there’s a lot more to come on this story.