TORONTO - Persistence paid off for the Toronto Blue Jays as they were able to introduce a much-needed ace for their starting rotation on Friday.
The Blue Jays welcomed pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu to Rogers Centre at a late-afternoon news conference after signing him to a four-year contract worth US$80 million. Team brass made it clear from the start of the free agency period that they wanted the star left-hander and that interest never wavered.
“I think the pursuit and the consistency really allowed Ryu to look at Toronto as though they wanted him and I think that was important to him,” said agent Scott Boras.
The 32-year-old South Korean led the major leagues with a 2.32 earned-run average last season and finished second in National League Cy Young voting. Ryu, who started for the NL in the all-star game, was 14-5 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and worked 182 2/3 innings.
The six-foot-three 255-pounder becomes the ace of a Toronto staff that was in flux last season. New additions Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson are good bets for the rotation with Shun Yamaguchi, Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay and Trent Thornton likely to battle for the other two spots.
Sporting a white Blue Jays jersey with No. 99 on the back, Ryu was flanked on the media room dais by Boras, president Mark Shapiro, GM Ross Atkins, and translator Tad Yo.
“Hello Canada,” Ryu said with a big smile. “Bonjour.”
The signing was a welcome change for Toronto fans who were growing tired of the team's inactivity when it comes to landing big-name free-agent talent. The move may not get the Blue Jays back into the mix of playoff contenders, but it signals a shift for a franchise that has seemed stuck in rebuild mode.
“He was going for the Cy Young last year, that tells you everything,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “We've got one of the best pitchers in baseball and we're going to have a chance to win every time he takes the mound.”
The Blue Jays are coming off a 67-95 season but have a solid young core of hitters in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio. Atkins was clear through the off-season that adding pitching would be a priority and he's hopeful Ryu will provide a stabilizing force as a rotation anchor.
“We're here for one thing and it's to win,” Atkins said. “We're getting closer to those days.”
It's a signing that comes with considerable risk.
Since making his big-league debut with the Dodgers in 2013, Ryu has been on the injured list on 10 different occasions.
He sat out the 2015 season and made only one appearance in 2016 due to left shoulder surgery and elbow tendinitis. He also missed time in 2017 with injuries to his left hip and foot.
“There is no free-agent signing where you're not sharing some risk,” Atkins said. “We feel like we have added an incredible talent to the organization.”
Ryu re-emerged with a 1.97 ERA over 15 starts in 2018 and accepted a $17.9-million qualifying offer from Los Angeles for 2019. He made 29 starts this year for the NL West champions.
Boras said there were three or four other teams that expressed interest in Ryu, but Toronto was where he wanted to live and play.
“Now this is his team and this is home,” Yo said for Ryu. “He's going to do his best to make Toronto fans proud and do his best to perform on the field.”
Given Ryu will wear No. 99, one reporter made a point to ask about Wayne Gretzky during the half-hour media availability. A grinning Boras, well-versed in the seismic Gretzky trade between the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings in 1988, took the lead on the reply.
“Canada lent No. 99 to LA,” Boras said. “So with Hyun-Jin, we thought we would return it back to Canada.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2019.