As Andrew mentioned Friday morning, the Cubs had indeed put in an “aggressive” bid for Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu. After the bidding period came to a close yesterday afternoon, the word was that the Hanwha Eagles, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) team that holds Ryu’s rights had accepted a bid of $25,737,737.33. Apparently sevens and threes are lucky numbers in Korea, instead of the funny total possibly coming from a currency exchange rate number crunch.
Unfortunately for Cubs fans and the front office, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com is reporting that Chicago’s bid was not the winning bid. There was a Tweet from Japan that the Cubs were the winners for the right to negotiate with Ryu, but ESPN’s Buster Olney has been told by other clubs in MLB that the winner may in fact be the Dodgers.
At this point the mystery club has 30 days to negotiate a contract with the Korean lefty. Considering how we are being accustomed to the Cubs front office keeping quiet all the time regarding transactions, there could be a sliver of hope that the Cubs are in fact the winners.
But the Dodgers being many people’s pick to be the winner makes sense. After all, it was Los Angeles that signed the first Korean ever in MLB, Chan Ho Park. The success of Park’s time in LA would certainly give the Dodgers some confidence that Ryu could provide the same at their pitcher friendly home stadium. The clubs familiarity with having a past Korean player might have been reflected in the odd, “lucky numbers” bid.
Furthermore, the Los Angeles and Southern California area is known to have the largest Korean American population in all of the United States. While the Dodgers, and any team interested in Ryu for that matter, are most likely more focused on what Ryu can bring on the baseball field, having a Korean player would certainly not hurt the marketably to this large minority population that has more than shown their fondness for baseball, as seen when World Baseball Classic games were hosted on the West Coast.
The Cubs losing the bid could be a blessing in a disguise. The $25 million plus bid is a sunk cost paid to Hanhwa should the winning team be successful in agreeing to terms with Ryu. Word is that the lefty’s agent, Scott Boras, is seeking a two year deal. As we all know, Boras is the best in the business when representing his clients, and the super agent figures to be angling for a short term deal for Ryu to prove his ability to perform at a high level in the top baseball league in the world. If Ryu’s performance on the field goes according to plan, a two year deal would place the Korean on the free agent market at an attractive 27 years of age. At that point it would not be out of the question to find a team to sign Ryu to a long term $50 million plus contract, if not more. By then the Cubs figure to be rebuilt and in the process of contending in the NL Central, and Ryu would be an excellent option for a rotation that currently has plenty of voids for not only 2013 but beyond after Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza.
It would be interesting to see if the club with the winning bid would be able to settle for just two years of Ryu considering how much they spent to win his rights. Failed negotiations would simply have Ryu returning to Korea and the KBO until he is posted again in the next off season or when he becomes a free agent in Korea.
The World Series drought would be no pressure for Ryu, considering he pitched in the gold medal game against Cuba in the 2008 Olympics. His outstanding performance that day allowed Korea to earn the gold at the young age of 21 years old. The pressure comes from the fact that Korean males are required to serve two years of military time, often delaying or even stunting the professional progress of a ball player. Earning gold allowed Ryu and his fellow Olympic teammates to receive military exemption from the Korean government.
Ryu also provided solid outings in the 2009 WBC, as Korea eventually placed second in that tournament. He is a bit of a big boned body type that would compare to the likes of C.C. Sabathia and David Wells. Time will tell if he will be able to perform like either at the MLB level. His fastball is not overpowering, but his breaking pitches are pretty nasty to deal with.
With Asian pitching imports typically struggling more than being successful in the Majors, one Ryu has going for him is his youth like Yu Darvish. However, with his mix of pitches and command, he could also figure to be a crafty closer if the work load of being a starter in MLB is too much.