Ryu agreed to join the Jays last weekend, then flew in from Korea for an introductory news conference Friday, greeting a live television audience with a wide smile and a few words in each of his new home country’s official languages.
“Hello, Canada,” Ryu said. “Bonjour. I’m happy to be here and I’m going to make the Toronto Blue Jays proud.” Ryu was 14-5 with a major league-best 2.32 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He started for the National League in his first All-Star Game and finished second in Cy Young Award voting to New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom.
Ryu’s is the second-biggest free agent deal in Blue Jays history, trailing only the five-year, $82 million contract former general manager Alex Anthopoulos gave catcher Russell Martin in November 2014.
“This is the next step in what we feel is a plan to build a sustainable championship team,” Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said. General manager Ross Atkins praised Ryu for his “insane athleticism” and his ability to get outs with different pitches in all four corners of the strike zone.
“You truly are fun to watch play,” Atkins told his new ace. Toronto needed a dependable starter to stabilize its rotation and help get the most from its crop of young talent, including four sons of former players, a group Boras regards with regal admiration.
“It was very clear from our conversations with Mark that the Blue Jays were willing to move forward and start building a base to complement the young players they have, and advance the royal youth to a level of championship play,” Boras said.
Now, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have a starter they can rely on to keep them in games. “We got one of the best pitchers in baseball,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We’re going to have a chance to win every time he takes the mound.”
Toronto isn’t the first place where Ryu has teamed with with a talented young core. “When Hyun-Jin played for the Dodgers, you saw this happen with (Corey) Seager, with (Cody) Bellinger,” Boras said. “We certainly expect the royal youth of the Blue Jays continues to grow at that pace.”
Three or four other teams were in the hunt, Boras said, including the Dodgers, who had “competitive interest” in retaining Ryu. No suitor was more tenacious than Toronto. “There’s not a week that went by that Ross wasn’t calling,” Boras said.
That persistence made an impact on Ryu. “Toronto was one that first pursued me, and continued to pursue, and that’s why I’m here,” he said through a translator. Ryu is the fourth pitcher to join the Blue Jays so far this offseason. Toronto signed right-hander Tanner Roark to a $24 million, two-year deal, acquired right-hander Chase Anderson from Milwaukee, and signed Japanese right-hander Shun Yamaguchi from the Yomiuri Giants.
No starter won more than six games for Toronto in 2019, and the rotation ranked 22nd out of 30 teams with a 5.25 ERA. The Blue Jays went 67-95, finishing fourth in the AL East for the third straight season.
Ryu, who turns 33 in March, spent his first seven big league seasons with the Dodgers after coming over from South Korea and signing a $36 million, six-year contract before the 2013 season. He was effective the first two years but sat out the 2015 season and made only one appearance in 2016 because of left shoulder surgery and elbow tendinitis. He also missed time in 2017 with injuries to his left hip and foot.
Ryu reemerged with a 1.97 ERA over 15 starts in 2018 and accepted a $17.9 million qualifying offer from Los Angeles for 2019, when he threw 182 2/3 innings in 29 starts for the NL West champions. Ryu, who wears jersey No. 99, was asked whether he was familiar with Canadian hockey icon Wayne Greztky, the last sports star to make a splash by moving between Los Angeles and Canada.
“Canada lent number 99 to LA,” Boras joked. “With Hyun-Jin, we thought we’d return it back to Canada.”
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