Blue Jays: Behind the scenes of the Hyun-Jin Ryu signing

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06: Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers in the first inning of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 06, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06: Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers in the first inning of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 06, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Blue Jays recently made one of the biggest splashes in free agency, signing Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million contract. Here’s how it went down.

Writer’s note: Most of the information in this article was translated from an initial piece on Naver Sports by Lee Young-Mi, a Korean reporter in charge of covering Shin-Soo Choo and Hyun-Jin Ryu in the MLB. Any mistranslations and miscommunications are mine and mine alone.

December 22, 2019

Hyun-Jin Ryu was already fast asleep when the ring of his phone woke him up at 3 a.m. on the 23rd of December (1 p.m. on December 22 EST). He had already missed ten calls from a familiar number – it was Scott Boras on the line. Feeling the urgency of the situation, Ryu and his wife picked up the call from Boras and listened to his explanation.

The Blue Jays had proposed their final contract offer: 4 years/$80 million. It was likely the best offer they were going to get. After mulling the offer for a few minutes, Ryu and his wife called Boras back with their answer: get the deal done. The negotiations proceeded quickly after Ryu gave the ok, and just a few hours later, the deal was announced – Hyun-Jin Ryu was heading North.

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The Blue Jays were aggressive from the start

Soon after the 2019 season was over, the Blue Jays let Scott Boras know of their interest in signing Hyun-Jin Ryu. They asked to meet with Ryu and his wife at the GM meetings in November, but Ryu didn’t feel like it was necessary to meet with any front-office executives. Instead, Ryu and his family returned to Korea to rest and recharge after a long season.

During the course of the offseason, Ryu received interest from many teams, including the Twins, Angels, Dodgers, and Jays. Out of the teams trying to sign Ryu, the Blue Jays were by far the most aggressive team. The Blue Jays and Ryu’s camp consistently kept in touch through email, and the Blue Jays made the first formal offer. Ryu rejected the offer, a four-year deal that came short of the $80 million figure.

Then came the Winter Meetings. It was there that the Blue Jays reinforced their serious interest in signing Ryu, with both GM Ross Atkins and President Mark Shapiro sitting down with Scott Boras to negotiate the details of the contract.

The Angels and Dodgers

Despite serious interest from the Blue Jays, Ryu still wanted to wait for offers from the Angels and Dodgers. In the Dodgers case, it is believed that though there were discussions of bringing Ryu back, the offers that Ryu received were disappointing. As for the Angels, a formal offer was never put on the table. According to Ryu’s camp, the Angels didn’t want two Asian players on the same team. Rather than separating their marketing efforts between the Korean and Japanese markets (the Angels already have Shohei Ohtani, a Japanese player), they instead wanted to focus on Japan.

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The importance of the four-year offer

Though Hyun-Jin Ryu is an excellent pitcher when healthy, many teams were hesitant because of his injury history. Despite the red flags, the Blue Jays were aggressive in their pursuit of Ryu from the start. They had no hesitation in offering a fourth year to Ryu, and it left Ryu in a position to make an easy decision. It was time for a new start, and Toronto was where he was going to play.

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