When the Blue Jays signed Hyun-Jin Ryu, they didn’t just give themselves an ace for their rotation. They took a lot of pressure off of Nate Pearson as well.
We got our first look at Hyun-Jin Ryu in a Blue Jays uniform yesterday, and while the results were mixed, it’s important to keep in mind that this is Spring Training and the results really don’t matter at this early stage.
What matters is that the Blue Jays have a legitimate ace to lead their starting rotation this year, something they’ve been lacking for a few seasons now. They had some solid starters like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez (when he was healthy), but they didn’t have the type of ceiling the Ryu could bring to the Jays’ staff this year, which is why excitement is so high for the Korean left-hander’s arrival.
As much as he’ll help the Blue Jays’ rotation this year, and that difference should be very noticeable, he’ll make an impact in another important area, the MLB introduction for Nate Pearson.
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Pearson’s big league debut likely won’t come until May or June at the earliest, but there’s little doubt that he’ll push himself into the Blue Jays’ starting rotation before the end of the season, or that he could be ready to contribute right now. His enormous talent is obvious to anyone who watches him pitch, and in another situation the pressure to give him a job on Opening Day would be tremendous.
That said, Pearson has just 123.1 professional innings over the last two years, and the Blue Jays would like to build up his innings count in the safest way possible. He unfortunately lost most of the 2018 season because of a broken arm sustained on a come-backer, which happened in his first start that year, so naturally he wasn’t able to build up a lot of endurance that season. Last year there were tremendous strides taken, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a slow start to the 2020 campaign, allowing him to unleash later in the year after he’s promoted.
The fact that the Blue Jays went out and added to their starting rotation this winter allows them to start Pearson’s season in Buffalo without a whole lot of fuss. The pure depth they added helps, as they re-worked nearly their entire rotation by adding Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Shun Yamaguchi (if he’s not in the bullpen), and bringing back a healthy Matt Shoemaker. And of course, putting the cheery on top that is signing an ace in Ryu really left the fan base pleased, and even a little stunned.
Because they still have solid arms like Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, Ryan Borucki (when he gets healthy), and more as well, we’re not feeling the urgency to have Pearson in the rotation that we would have if Ross Atkins and the front office had failed to make these improvements. That depth was incredibly important, especially after using such a thin group in 2019, but having Ryu really took the pressure off of the Blue Jays to promote Pearson right away.
This team also really needs an ace, and instead of trying to force a rookie into a position that’s a little unfair, Ryu can handle that role for a few years, or at least until Pearson is ready to wrestle his title away. Ideally he can be a mentor for the budding star as well, but even just his presence will make a difference in Pearson’s development. Sure, the Blue Jays will still want him to succeed, but he won’t have to be “the guy” right at the beginning of his career.
For someone with a future as bright as Pearson’s, those little things can make a big difference, and I can’t help but wonder if the Blue Jays had that in the back of their mind as they were free agent shopping in December. Regardless, they ended up with their established ace, which will help the team in the short term, the long term, and also with their own developing arms. I’d call that a win all around.