The Blue Jays have found their ace — a big-money, top-of-the-rotation starter in the form of free agent left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The news broke late Sunday that the rebuilding Toronto franchise signed the 32-year-old South Korean to a four-year US$80-million deal.
The signing turned a quiet off-season into a home-run acquisition for Jays general manager Ross Atkins and team president Mark Shapiro.
Most importantly, it gives manager Charlie Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker a legitimate starter to lead the young team after one of hits worst seasons in decades.
Though he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers for six seasons, Ryu led the majors in earned-run average in his outstanding 2019 campaign, finishing with a 2.32 ERA which earned him an All-Star berth and a runner-up for the National League Cy Young Award. Those honours were well earned with a 14-5 record which included 182.2 innings of work and 163 strikeouts.
Obviously the southpaw immediately vaults to the top of a Toronto rotation that for the most part was a disaster last season. It got particularly bad when Aaron Sanchez continued to battle injury issues and Marcus Stroman was a disruption in the clubhouse. Both were dealt prior to the July 31 MLB trade deadline and a troubled season in which the Jays used 21 different starters was in full disarray.
In Ryu, however, the team now has a legit ace to build around and complement the talented group of young position players led by Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.
It also makes it a productive off-season for Atkins and a Jays offence that has taken a lot of heat from a frustrated fan base. Quietly the Jays brass made it known they were serious about Ryu, however, and from a perception standpoint with the clubs followers, landing him has to be viewed as a large score.
Already, the team has acquired potential starters in Chase Anderson, Tanner Roark and Shun Yamaguchi, the latter who would appear to be a candidate for the bullpen.
As with any acquisition, the Ryu deal is pending a physical, which isn’t likely to take place until the new year. In his six seasons with the Dodgers, Ryu compiled a record of 54-33 with a stellar 2.98 ERA. Prior to coming to North America, Ryu was a legend in his homeland where he was a star in the Korean Baseball Organization.
The signing comes with some risk, however, given Ryu’s age and the fact that he has battled injuries throughout his career. But his most recent form is difficult to ignore and the need to acquire a pitcher with star power and effective stuff was critical.
From a money standpoint, the expenditure on the lefty is certainly a breakthrough for the Jays organization. Atkins has vowed all off-season that he had clearance from team owner Rogers Communications to spend — and spend he did.
The reported $80-million outlay is the most under the current administration and is the most money the team has spent since signing Canadian-born catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82-million contract. It also continues a massive MLB off-season for free-agent pitchers to break the bank. The biggest of those contracts went to Gerrit Cole, who signed with the Yankees for a record US$324 million.
In a perfect world, the Jays likely would have preferred topping out at three years for Ryu, so the term certainly brings some risk as the pitcher ages. On the other hand, with the Yankees getting so strong, so much young talent on the roster and attendance plummeting, one could argue that the team could ill afford not to make a splash by acquiring a quality arm.
The recent Jays acquisitions certainly change the makeup of a pitching staff that laboured last year. If you were projecting a rotation today — seven weeks and change before pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin, Fla. for spring training — Ryu would be at the top followed by Roark, Anderson, and Matt Shoemaker (who is coming off of knee surgery), with Ryan Borucki and Trent Thornton battling for the fifth spot.
With Ryu under contract for four years, if things go to plan the Jays pitching situation now seems loaded with promise. Nate Pearson, one of the most coveted pitching prospects in the game, is a year at most from a potential arrival in the big leagues and a host of other strong arms, including 2019 first-round pick Alek Manoah are also well regarded.
Until the Ryu signing, the Jays off-season was dominated by talk — with both Atkins and Shapiro maintaining they were aggressively pursuing big names. Sources around the league confirmed that strategy by Toronto management and now the talk is real.
And perhaps the Christmas miracle came just in time to stuff some Blue Jays tickets under the tree.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)