MLB Rumors: Hyun-Jin Ryu is one of the top free agent starting pitchers on the market this offseason, and the former Los Angeles Dodgers and native of South Korea told a Korean outlet that it would be “special” to play with fellow South Korean Shin-Soo Choo. Choo has reportedly lobbied the Rangers to pursue Ryu.
Ryu, a lefthander who turns 33 in March, has struggled to stay on the mound since coming over to the United States, missing all of 2015 and appearing in just one game in 2016, and qualifying for the ERA title just twice since joining the Dodgers in 2013. However, he led the majors in ERA in 2019 after accepting the qualifying offer from L.A. after the 2018 season, and on the heels of a 2.32 ERA/3.10 FIP year in 182.2 IP, he’s poised to cash in on a big deal, without the penalty of a draft pick being attached.
Ryu is represented by Scott Boras, which isn’t going to scare the Rangers off — Boras represented Adrian Beltre, of course, and represents, among others, current Rangers Elvis Andrus, Joey Gallo, and Ronald Guzman, as well as Choo. With the Rangers prioritizing starting pitching this offseason, and having indicated they’ll be swimming in the deep end of the free agent pool, I would expect them to make a serious push for him.
As for the Choo element...Choo is a prominent figure in South Korea — Ben says that when he started working with a group in South Korea that is rescuing dogs there and sending them to the United States, he asked them what they knew about Texas, and they said “Shin-Soo Choo plays there!” — and his playing for the Rangers, and by all accounts finding it to be a positive experience, certainly can’t hurt the Rangers’ pursuit of Ryu. That said, Choo is also in the final year of his deal, while Ryu has been seeking a three or four year deal, and has been said to prefer staying in Los Angeles if possible. The Choo factor could move the needle a little, but ultimately, it probably won’t matter unless the Rangers are also the top bidder.
Kiley McDaniel projects Ryu to get 2 year, $32 million, and if that’s all it takes for Texas to land him, I’d be all over that. I expect that he’ll get a multi-year deal, however, and I could see him getting one of those complicated deals like A.J. Pollack and Jake Arrieta have done in recent years, with vesting opt-outs, club buy outs of opt outs, option year salaries increasing based on innings, and the like.
If the Rangers are serious about trying to be good in 2020, pursuing Ryu and pairing him with someone with less upside but more certainty as additions to the rotation — say, a Dallas Keuchel or a Kyle Gibson — would make sense, allowing Texas to let the gaggle of young arms compete for the fifth spot in the rotation, while also providing depth when Ryu needs to miss a couple of starts or someone else goes down. Those two and someone like Josh Donaldson, for example, could make for an interesting 2020.
I expect the Rangers to be linked to just about every starting pitcher in the market this offseason, but Ryu is one who seems like better fit than many, if Texas can convince him to leave the L.A. lights behind.