A healthy Hyun Jin Ryu is more important than ever for the Blue Jays

Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

One of the great things about baseball -- and professional sports in general -- is it often offers the chance for redemption. Step forward, Hyun Jin Ryu.

When the Blue Jays originally signed Ryu to a four-year, $80 million deal in late 2019, he was expected to boost the rotation as a potential staff ace. This made sense, coming off his first All-Star appearance, during a season which included a 2.32 ERA and career-best 1.007 WHIP.

The early returns were good, albeit during a shortened 2020 campaign impacted by COVID. Ryu went 5-2 over 12 starts, as he finished third in voting for the AL Cy Young Award and 13th overall in the MVP voting.

This isn't how it was meant to go

The following season however, Ryu started to go in the wrong direction as -- among other things-- he recorded a 4.37 ERA. This was the worst of his Major League career save for 2016, when his 11.57 ERA came in just one appearance before his season was ended by an elbow injury.

Still, the 36-year-old battled through and went 14-10 in 31 starts. The hope was that 2021 was just an aberration, an off-year - which can happen to anyone.

Unfortunately for all concerned this was not the case, with 2022 being even more disastrous for Ryu. He struggled from the word go, highlighted by a 5.67 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 1.333 WHIP and career-low 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Almost mercifully, the Incheon, South Korea native was removed from his sixth start after just four innings. It turned out to be his last action of the year, as he underwent season-ending Tommy John Surgery.

Tommy John surgery often takes about a year to recovery from. Combined with his contract expiring after the 2023 season, many thought that was essentially it for Ryu as a Blue Jay.

New hope for Ryu

Now though, circumstances have taken a turn to potentially allow Ryu to be a saviour of sorts in Toronto. In part due to Alek Manoah's unexpected struggles, but also because the starting rotation lacks quality depth.

The Blue Jays' rotation has been remarkably durable up to this point of the 2023 campaign, but it is a precariously situation. Pending when the southpaw is ready to go, he could provide a solution.

Of course this leads to the question of when Ryu could be back, with some encouraging updates of late. As per MLB.com, he recently progressed to throwing off a mound at the club's complex in Dunedin, Florida.

The seven-time KBO All-Star has reportedly lost weight and looks fantastic physically. As per Keegan Matheson, he is projected for minor league rehab starts some time this month, with a targeted return to the Blue Jays' rotation by mid-July.

Understandably, there is always the possibility of a setback. However, if Ryu can be back sometime shortly after the All-Star break, it might save the Blue Jays having to look to the trade market for rotation help.

What should Blue Jays fans expect?

With this all said, what the Blue Jays actually get from Ryu is anyone's guess. Will it be the version who pitched well for the majority of his Major League career, or the one from the past two seasons?

If nothing else, you would at least expect the 2019 ERA leader to be supremely motivated. In part to prove all the doubters wrong, but also to show teams around the league he is worthy of another contract offer.

It's tough to invision Ryu being the prime version of himself from 2018-20 (not that anyone would mind). At the same time however, as long as he is better than he was the past two years, this will be extremely helpful to the Blue Jays.

In the process, Ryu would become the latest example of redemption in professional baseball. Now it's up to him to go out there and make this become a reality.