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Blue Jays’ four-year deal with Hyun-Jin Ryu a game-changer on many levels – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – The path from rebuilding team to contender includes countless steps, most of which occur with little fanfare behind the scenes. And then there are the decisions that catch everyone’s attention.

Late Sunday night, the Blue Jays made one of those moves, agreeing to terms with last year’s National League ERA leader in a bold deal that now ranks among the largest in franchise history. The Blue Jays are in agreement with Hyun-Jin Ryu on a four-year, $80 million deal, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported first.

Immediately, the deal with the 32-year-old South Korean impacts the Blue Jays on and off the field. He bolsters a rotation that needed short-term help, represents a long-term building block for a franchise looking to contend again and offers the clearest sign yet that the current front office is willing and able to spend big.

Of course, there are questions here too.

A finesse pitcher, Ryu averaged 90.6 m.p.h. with his fastball in 2019 while also relying on a cutter, curve and his preferred out-pitch, a plus change-up. The combination worked in 2019, when he posted an NL-best 2.32 ERA in 182.2 innings while striking out 163.

He joins a rotation featuring two other newcomers, free agent signing Tanner Roark and trade acquisition Chase Anderson. On paper, Matt Shoemaker would be the club’s No. 4 starter while Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki would be leading candidates for the final spot. That’s a much better rotation than the one that posted a 5.25 ERA in 2019.

“It’s not good enough just to have depth,” GM Ross Atkins said soon after the regular season. “You have to have major-league pieces and guys that can contribute in significant ways.”

Of course, that initial rotation will just be a starting point. A year ago, the Blue Jays used 21 different starters including Ryan Feierabend, Buddy Boshers and Neil Ramirez. The lack of viable starters was apparent at times, with manager Charlie Montoyo once justifying his decision to start Edwin Jackson and his 11.12 ERA by acknowledging “We don’t have anybody else.”

Well, now they do. On paper, the Blue Jays seem poised to begin the season with a triple-A rotation filled with young pitchers ready or nearly ready for the majors. Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch and Sean Reid-Foley all have some big-league experience and can be optioned to and from Buffalo as needed. Plus, there’s Nate Pearson, arguably the game’s top pitching prospect, who should be ready for major-league hitters at some point this season.

Ryu’s presence should help ensure that the days of ‘an opener and a guy’ are over.

Even so, the Blue Jays can’t assume they’re getting 200 innings per season from Ryu, who has missed considerable time over the years. Shoulder surgery cost him the entire 2015 season and the first half of 2016. After just one start back, elbow tendonitis sidelined him until 2017. Hip and foot injuries impacted him that year, but only briefly. Then, in 2018, he missed 90 games with a left groin strain.

Those injuries could resurface, so a fair over/under for total innings pitched in Toronto may be 500 rather than 800. Regardless, that risk is priced into his contract to some extent as Ryu signed for a lower average annual value than fellow free agents Gerrit Cole ($36 million), Stephen Strasburg ($35) million and Zack Wheeler ($23.6 million). Adding to Ryu’s appeal, he won’t cost the Blue Jays a draft pick since he accepted Los Angeles’ qualifying offer a year ago.

Clearly, there’s risk here — it’s the largest free agent pitching deal in franchise history — but the Blue Jays are positioned to absorb it at a time that they have considerable financial flexibility. Beyond 2021, the team’s only commitments are Roark, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk. It won’t be until the final year of Ryu’s contract that the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio are arbitration-eligible.

Even after completing this deal with Ryu and agent Scott Boras, the Blue Jays should have room to add and retain more impact players in the coming seasons. According to Roster Resource, Toronto’s projected 2020 payroll sits at $106 million — nowhere near the luxury tax threshold of $208 million.

Ryu’s agreement represents the largest Blue Jays deal of any kind since club president and CEO Mark Shapiro took over following the 2015 season. In the intervening years, Shapiro often said the Blue Jays would have the means to spend on major free agents at the right time, but that was often met with skepticism from the fan base. Now, the Ryu deal speaks for itself.

Eventually, the Blue Jays hope he’ll be pitching them back to contention. If everything breaks right, that could even happen as soon as next season. In the perhaps more likely event that 2020 represents a step towards respectability, Ryu’s greatest impact may be felt in 2021 and beyond.

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

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)

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