Hyun Jin Ryu had a short but promising season for the 2023 Blue Jays

On free agency, Ryu said, "I don't know what to tell you at this point. I think we'll have to wait and see. Only time will tell."
Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays / Cole Burston/GettyImages

With Hyun Jin Ryu now a free agent, the Toronto Blue Jays could still have interest in him as a depth option for 2024 given the uncertainty around which Alek Manoah might show up at spring training in February. With his value as a mentor to Manoah, that might prove to be ‘found money’.

The 36-year-old Ryu was already tendered a qualifying offer (QO) from the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 2019 season, so he wasn’t eligible to receive another QO from the Jays. Nicknamed “Monster”, the big Korean southpaw can scare opposing hitters with his five-pitch arsenal of slow (four-seam fastball which averages 89mph) and slower (average 78mph changeup and 69mph curveball) stuff with pinpoint control, suggesting he can still add value to an MLB rotation.

Ryu joins an absolutely loaded free agent market for starting pitching, that includes Cy Young award finalists Blake Snell and Sonny Gray, MVP finalist Shohei Ohtani (who won’t pitch in 2024 after surgery for a torn UCL), as well as Aaron Nola, Clayton Kershaw, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Shōta Imanaga, Yariel Rodriguez, Marcus Stroman, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty and Lucas Giolito.

Ryu signed a four-year, $80M contract just after Christmas in December 2019, in a move that signaled the competitive window was re-opening for the Blue Jays. He’d gone 14-5 with a major league low 2.32 ERA for the Dodgers over 182.2 innings, and finished 2nd in the NL Cy Young voting that year behind Mets ace Jacob deGrom.

He’s certainly proved his value with Toronto, both on and off the field. He helped lead the team to a postseason berth in the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, posting a 5-2 record and 2.69 ERA over 12 starts and 67 innings, with 72 strikeouts against only 17 walks. He was again a finalist in Cy Young voting that year, and finished 3rd behind Cleveland’s Shane Bieber and Minnesota's Kenta Maeda.

In 2021, Ryu went 14-10 with a 4.37 ERA over 31 starts and 169 innings in a season where the Jays missed a playoff berth by just one game. Last year, he only made six starts and threw 27 innings before being shut down with a UCL tear, which required full Tommy John surgery on his left elbow on June 17th last year.

After a little more than 13 months recovering and rehabbing, Ryu returned to the Blue Jays on Aug. 1 this year, allowing 9 hits and 4 runs over 5 innings in a 13-3 loss to the Orioles at home. He went on to make 11 starts and toss 52 innings, with a 3.46 ERA and 38 strikeouts versus 14 walks, all respectable numbers coming off the surgery and long layoff.

For his tenure with Toronto, he went a combined 24-15 with a 3.97 ERA and ERA+ of 110 over 60 starts and 315 innings, with 269 Ks and 72 walks. All in all, his numbers were pretty, pretty good.

Off the field, he also proved his worth by becoming a role model for young starter Alek Manoah. The pair were highlighted in a September 2021 article by MLB.com's Keegan Matheson, who’d noted then how “Ryu has taken Manoah under his wing, quietly and effectively.”

“He’s a huge role model. He’s definitely like a big brother to me, somebody that I can look up to,” Manoah said. “He’s been through a lot of the things that I’m going to be getting ready to go through. He’s been in my footsteps before. I just have a ton of respect for him and everything he’s done in the league."

There’s also a great summary of their early friendship from a Korean language news article on Reddit here. Manoah often replies to Ryu’s instagram posts, and Korean SPOTV reporter Mi-Ye Cho noted that one such reply was “잘 했어” in Korean, which translates as “Great job!”

So while Ryu will be entering his age-37 season in 2024, there may still be some gas left in the tank after minimal wear on his throwing arm over the past four seasons. He’s certainly a role model to younger Jays pitchers, as well as being a hero to many in the large community of people with Korean ancestry who call the GTHA home.

A final consideration is that he did tell writer Jeeho Yoo of Korea’s Yonhap News Agency that he would finish his career with the Hanwha Eagles, his old club in Korea. Coming out of the GM Meetings this week, Ryu’s agent Scott Boras did say he’ll pitch in MLB next year, not Korea. One last kick at the can with Toronto might be a great way to crown his MLB career.

Grade: B+

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