Hyun-Jin Ryu is huge.
As in heavier than David Wells. As in 75 pounds more than Marcus Stroman. Huge, as in the largest signing and most significant gamble made by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, the previous baseball twins of do-nothing and say-nothing, who suddenly have something to say and sell and something to be proud about.
Ryu is a giant from South Korea who doesn’t just pitch. He conducts the orchestra. He controls the environment. He throws what some baseball people call the best changeup in the game.
He doesn’t walk people. He doesn’t give anything away. He’s the ace the Blue Jays haven’t had since that moment in time when Aaron Sanchez led the American League in earned-run average. Ryu led the National League in the same category this past season, which at the age of 32 was his healthiest, strongest, and most complete big-league season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. L.A. wanted him back, but he opted not to return after the Blue Jays dangled $80-million U.S. at him.
There were other teams chasing Ryu. The Los Angeles Angels had interest, as did the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.
And this is where Shapiro and Atkins need to be congratulated: They beat somebody to the finish line. Finally. They weren’t just chasers of Ryu. They won the gold medal in this race.
Being in the race is meaningless off-season talk, especially around here. We’ve heard too much of it over the years. Who cares who is chasing whom? Winning the race — getting your man — that’s all that matters, an indication to Blue Jays fans that they are at least serious about becoming competitive.
Before this signing, with all the garage-sale junk the Jays have accumulated in recent years, it was hard to take Shapiro and Atkins all that seriously. It was hard to believe they weren’t doing anything but paddling in circles.
The Ryu signing may not be a ticket to the post-season, but it is an indication of the credibility of management. This signing paints the Blue Jays as players. This signing brings a certain respect we haven’t seen since 2015. Not unlike the Russell Martin signing in Toronto, this is an overpay, a Lou Lamoriello signing — to use his terminology, too much money, too much term. But to get free agents to come to Toronto, at this time in Blue Jays history, to get them as the Jays languish near the bottom of the American League, they have to overpay and oversell.
And they have done that here.
Ryu, by the way, is not a sure thing. No free agent ever is. But here’s what we’ve been able to find out about him. He’s considered both a good guy and good pitcher, and he was very popular with Dodgers players and management.
What some wonder about now is the adjustment he will have to make from pitching at Dodger Stadium to pitching at Rogers Centre.
It’s not just National League to American League. The free outs are gone with the switch of leagues. The earned-run average always goes up with that kind of move.
It’s throwing in a pitcher-friendly stadium to throwing at the home-run haven we have in downtown Toronto that will represent a challenge for Ryu.
At home, last season, Ryu was 10-1 with an earned-run average of 1.93. On the road, his ERA rose to 2.72.
He started 29 games: The Dodgers won 20 of them and he ended the season with 182 innings pitched, the most he had thrown since he was a rookie. And the question with Ryu has always been about health. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, he made just 40 starts. In three of his six big-league seasons, he pitched from beginning to end. In between, he couldn’t be relied upon.
One of the two National League scouting eyes I talked to about Ryu said he can really pitch, he really challenges hitters and, in his words, he called him “legit.” But then he listed three words as his cons: Durability, durability and durability.
Was 2019 an indication that he’s gotten past his arm and shoulder troubles.
“How healthy is he doing to be? How many innings is he going to log?” He meant this season and the years that follow.
We don’t care how much it cost to sign him. It’s not our money. We care that Rogers and Atkins and Shapiro are finally using the necessary money to enhance the Blue Jays’ roster and reputation, both of which are in need of some repair.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is not the saviour of anything that doesn’t happen every fifth day during the upcoming season. But he’s a message that Toronto can be a destination. He’s the front end of an improving starting staff on an improving team.
Finally, the Blue Jays stopped chasing, stopped stalling, started spending and came home with a giant-sized, left-handed gift for the holidays.