With the conclusion of the 2019 World Series this week comes the beginning of the winter hot stove season. Before long, free agents and trade rumors will soar to the top of the MLB headlines. And, based on all the chatter so far, the Dodgers will be one of those clubs at the forefront.
In some shape or form, Los Angeles will change the landscape of its roster. It may not be a huge overhaul, as boss Andrew Friedman may want to stick with the formula that last season produced the best record in franchise history. However, it may be that exact formula that’s preventing the Dodgers from having the extra boost needed to secure its first World Championship in more than 30 years.
One player who will impact the 2020 roster either directly or indirectly is lefty starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. If Ryu signs elsewhere during the offseason, it would be a sign that Friedman and the Dodgers have faith in their younger starting pitchers to guide the team to its eighth consecutive NL West division title. If Los Angeles somehow signs Ryu to a deal, though, the Dodgers could potentially be considered as having one of the best rotations before a pitch is thrown in the 2020 season.
If there’s one advantage for the Dodgers, it’s that Ryu absolutely loves Los Angeles. Last winter, his liking for Southern California certainly played a huge factor in his acceptance of the team’s $17.9 million qualifying offer.
If there’s a disadvantage, it’s that the 32-year-old South Korean native is represented by Scott Boras, who will undoubtedly be aiming to score the longest, most lucrative contract for his client.
The World Series isn’t even over yet, and Boras is already doing some preliminary campaigning.
“He had a Cy Young season. He was the best pitcher in the league,” Boras said recently. “We’re really excited about his future and we’re just beginning to see the real Ryu.”
Indeed, Ryu is arguably coming off his best campaign since arriving stateside.
He led MLB in ERA with 2.32 while throwing 182 2/3 innings, his most since 192 innings as a rookie in 2013. He also tied his career high with 14 wins. Not only did he appear in his first-ever All-Star game, but he was also the starting pitcher for the National League. He’s also among the front-runners for the 2019 NL Cy Young Award. If he is named the winner, there’s no question his price tag will inflate immediately.
Despite his recent success, general managers across baseball will definitely consider Ryu’s vast injury history. After combining for 56 starts during the the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he missed the entire 2015 season when he had shoulder surgery.
Ryu was scheduled to return during 2016 spring camp, but the injury never mended properly. Following numerous unsuccessful throwing programs, he finally began to throw hard late in the summer and made a big league start against the Padres in July. Nevertheless, elbow soreness ultimately led to an arthroscopic debridement procedure, which would eventually shut him down for the remainder of the 2016 season.
The lefty made 24 starts in 2017, but missed a big portion of the 2018 season after suffering a groin injury that saw almost an entire muscle being torn from the bone. That year, he made just 15 regular-season starts.
Regardless, Boras seems to believe that Ryu’s injuries are behind him, saying that the left-hander is finally at “100 percent, physically.”
“He is, age-wise, 32, but the truth is, innings-wise, he’s probably about 26 or 27, because he doesn’t have many innings on his arm,” Boras said. “That makes him very valuable.”
As far as numbers go, some outlets are speculating that Ryu will receive a contract in excess of five years and $125 million. My thoughts are that rival clubs will be weary of the injuries from his past, reducing those numbers significantly. I realize it’s a low figure—especially for a Cy Young candidate—but my guess is that he’ll settle late for a three-year deal in the range of $65-75 million.
If those numbers hold true, Friedman may have a shot more than anyone else.
Or, maybe, he doesn’t have any interest in signing Ryu at all.