The Blue Jays finally make a free agent investment in Hyun-Jin Ryu

The Toronto Blue Jays made a significant addition to their rotation on Sunday by signing Hyun-Jin Ryu to four years and $80 million dollar—their third highest free agent contract in their history and highest in the Shapiro/Atkins era. According to Mark Feinsand, the deal includes a partial no-trade clause with an AAV of $20 million.

This is the kind of deal fans have been waiting from Shapiro and Atkins since they came over and had promised when the time was right. Well, now with most of the Blue Jays young core in the minors and another wave at Triple-A, it makes sense to start adding a significant piece like Ryu, especially given the financial flexibility Blue Jays enjoy as majority of their star players are still in their pre-arbitration years.

With Ryu, the Blue Jays now have a staff ace missing since the trade of Marcus Stroman. Behind him the rotation should look something like Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton, with Ryan Boruki, Anthony Kay & T.J. Zeuch behind. This is makes for a relatively decent rotation with the Jays not having to worry about bringing up kids before they’re ready. This also allows them to maintain depth in Buffalo and one can be rest assured they’ll need all these arms as teams barely make it in a season with six or seven starters these days.

So what does Ryu brings to the table? For starters, quality innings! He was the NL ERA champion in 2019 and would look to build on that campaign. His xwOBA of .298 for 2019 was in line with his actual wOBA of 2.91 suggests that his numbers weren’t merely lucky. While Ryu does not light up the radar gun and he definitely does not he rack up a ton of strike outs, he makes it up with control.

In 2019 he did not give up a lot of walks; his 1.18 walks per nine in 2019 was the lowest in baseball among qualified starters, and he kept the ball in the ball park: he ranked 4th in home runs per nine innings in 2019, two critical ingredients for success in AL East ballparks. He primarily works with a four-seam fastball complemented with a cutter and change up (which is what he uses to generate a high percentage of whiffs).

Most importantly, he brings stability at the top of rotation that the Blue Jays need despite not being a true contender in 2020. By all accounts the free agent class of 2021 isn’t all that great and Blue Jays were never going to be in on Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg—which is why it was important they sign someone like Ryu.

The deal also works out terrifically for Ryu. According to FanGraphs crowdsource results, he was expected to be in the range of three years $48 million, so the Blue Jays seemed to have really liked Ryu and/or they know that their competitive window is fairly close which is why it made sense for them to go with an extra year and significantly more money.

The deal isn’t without risks. Ryu has never thrown 200 innings in a season in MLB and only 391 23 innings over the last three years. He’s also a 33 years old and the contract will take him to his age-37 season. But given where the Blue Jays are in their development cycle, it makes sense to add someone like Ryu to stabilize the rotation. If the contract doesn’t work out towards the back end, it’s short enough that the Blue Jays should find enough value to make this contract worth it in the end.

The Blue Jays are more fun to watch now than they were 48 hours ago. Even though they’re not expected to be true contenders in 2020, it’s a lot more fun to enjoy an ace pitch instead of some guy as an opener and a bullpen. It’s also a strong signal from the front office that their competitive window appears to be close and that it’s time to make the kind of investments in quality free agents they’ve been promising.

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