Ever since Korea’s national team won the gold in the 2008 Olympics and silver at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, MLB teams have been fishing for guys to bring to the states. Looks like Ryu Hyun-jin, a 25-year-old seven-year veteran, is going to be the first major Korean import since Shin-Soo Choo.
It’s hardly a surprise. Ryu Hyun-jin has a fastball that can hit 95 MPH, a nasty change-up, seven All-Star selections, five Strikeout titles, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP award and two gold medals.
You may have even seen him play and didn’t even realize it. He manhandled the competition as a 21-year-old in the 2008 Olympics (17.1 IP, 2 ER, 13K) and pitched well out of the bullpen in the World Baseball Classic the year after (7 IP, 2 ER, 7K). Playing for the Hanwha Eagles, Ryu has a career 98-52 record with a lifetime WHIP of 1.15 and a 4:1 K:BB ratio. If a team was going to sign anyone, it was going to be the kid with a 2.80 career ERA over seven seasons in an up-and-coming Korean baseball scene.
The question is: how will all this translate to the MLB and how much is he actually worth? The Dodgers have already spent $25.7 million just to get the rights to negotiate with him. Now they get to hammer out terms with Scott Boras for the next month. How much is he going to get? The Red Sox spent $51 million to win the rights to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka and gave him a $52 million deal. The Rangers spent $51.7 million to win the rights to Yu Darvish and gave him a $60 million deal. Does a bid half the size mean a contract half the size as well? Does $20-25 million for 4-5 years sound about right?
Scott Boras certainly doesn’t think so. He has indicated that Ryu might stay in Korea and pitch another two years until he is a free agent if the Dodgers don’t show him the money. Of course, Boras is a cut-throat thorn-in-the-side-of-every-GM agent so it would be weird if he didn’t try to strong arm the Dodgers into more than $5 million per year. In June, the Dodgers gave $6 million per year to Yasiel Puig, a Cuban outfielder who is now in the minors. Boras says his client is Major League-ready.
It’s a tough decision for any club. Is he going to play like early Chan Ho Park (80-54, 3.78 ERA, 1100 Ks in his first six seasons) or like later Chan Ho Park (44-44, 5.17 ERA, 1.51 WHIP in his final eight seasons)?
Maybe there’s a reason MLB clubs are wary of Korean pitchers. Here is every Korean pitcher that played in the Majors for more than a season not named Chan Ho Park. Notice the lack thereof.
Byung-Hyun Kim (1999-2007): 54-60, 4.42 ERA, 806 K, 86 SVs
Sun-Woo Kim (2001-2006): 13-13, 5.31 ERA over 337 IP
Jung-Keun Bong (2002-2004): 7-4, 5.17 ERA over 78 IP
Jae Weong Seo (2002-2007): 28-40, 4.60 ERA, 340 K over 606 IP
Cha Seung Baek (2004-2009): 16-18, 4.83 ERA, 184 K over 280 IP
Jae Kuk Ryu (2006-2008): 1-3, 7.49 ERA, enough said.
Luckily, since there’s no way of knowing how this will turn out yet, I’m going to make a bunch of predictions based soley on speculation:
December 2012: Ryu signs a contract worth $24 million over four-years. Scott Boras makes sure to include a contract clause stating that Ryu may only be be served orange Gatorade, and only with the right hand.
April 2013: Ryu makes his debut, he strikes out six, walks nine.
April-June 2013: Ryu is impressive and looks like the next big thing.
June 2013-September 2019: Ryu spends most of his time on the disabled list nursing a sore calf that never seems to improve. Scott Boras stops returning his calls.
December 2019: Ryu returns to Korea hoping to forget this whole MLB ordeal ever happened.
January 2020: A random Googler finds this article and confirms that everything above happened verbatim. Igor Derysh thereafter only referred to as the Nostradamus of Korean baseball.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Except the ones from the future.