After a career year, it seemed as if Hyun-Jin Ryu was going to be leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers, however, it might be quite the contrary.
The Los Angeles Dodgers benefitted a lot from Hyun-Jin Ryu’s emergence in 2019. Clayton Kershaw is in his downswing and is no longer ace material and Walker Buehler is a year or two away from being a bonafide ace.
That is where Ryu stepped up and was the ace of the Dodgers’ staff, finishing first in ERA and second in Cy Young voting. This was a massive win for Ryu as well, as he accepted the Dodgers’ qualifying offer last season and upped his value tenfold this season.
Ryu enters free agency as the third-best pitcher on the market behind Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. With pitching being such a premium for most big-league clubs, Ryu is still primed to be very sought after this winter.
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Because of that, it did not appear as if he was a fit for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It seemed as if some team that needs pitching that missed out on Cole and Strasburg would pay Ryu a big contract for six or so years.
And with his age (33 in March) and injury past, the keen-minded Dodgers definitely did not seem like a fit to match some big-time offer.
However, as the hot stove has gotten closer and closer, it has felt more and more like the Dodgers might bring Ryu back after all.
The first reason is the fact that Ryu reportedly is looking for a three or four-year deal, which definitely keeps the Dodgers in the fold. Despite his age and injury past, the Dodgers are a team that absolutely would be willing to pay Ryu $20-25 million in three-four seasons to remain on the staff.
Need an example? Look at Rich Hill. The Dodgers gave Hill a three-year, $48 million contract prior to his age 37 season, blister worries and all. With that contract expiring this winter, the Dodgers can essentially use that money, tack on an extra $5-10 million per season and use it for Ryu.
With an estimated $104 million in luxury tax space next season—and more following with Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen‘s contracts all expiring in the next two years—the Dodgers can afford to pay Ryu $20-25 million before needing to extend Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler and company.
Second is the market has not yet emerged for Ryu. The Texas Rangers seem to be in play needing an ace and having a Korean currently on the roster in Shin-Soo Choo. The Los Angeles Angels need pitching and provide a familiar Southern California option and even a team like the New York Yankees could make a push if they miss out on Cole or Strasburg.
However, it is that familiar Southern California presence that may sway Ryu. If the Dodgers offer a contract that is relatively close to other offers that Ryu is receiving, I am inclined to believe that he will stick with a contending team that he is familiar with.
Familiarity could be a huge factor in this decision considering he is a foreign player that has not lived in the United States his entire life. It may be a tough decision to play on the other side of the country, although nobody truly knows that except for Ryu.
And for the Dodgers, bringing Ryu back in might be the better alternative than getting Cole and Strasburg. Cole and Strasburg are absolutely the better pitchers but they are going to be part of a bidding war that the Dodgers could end up losing and getting nothing out of.
To use a cross-sport reference, look at the Los Angeles Lakers. They waited and waited for Kawhi Leonard to make his decision and missed out on some of the better role players on the market because of it. The Dodgers can give their offer to Cole and Strasburg, and if neither of them like it, the team can go to the fallback option in Ryu.
Plus, that leaves more money for the team to sign someone such as Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson. With the starting rotation already being deep, that is arguably more impactful than adding just Cole or Strasburg.
The bottom line is to not be surprised if the Los Angeles Dodgers end up re-signing Hyun-Jin Ryu early in the offseason instead of getting involved in the Cole and Strasburg bidding war. From there, the team can then emphasize other priorities.