Ryu Hyun-jin: $11M+ per year? It’s officially Ryu Hyun-jin-Boras time
Before the 2023-2024 Major League Baseball offseason, people familiar with Ryu Hyun-jin’s situation said, “It looks like Ryu’s contract is going to be a long-term deal.” Ryu’s agent, Scott Boras, who also represents him in Major League Baseball, was painting that picture.
The situation was different from his first free agency four years ago, when he was at the peak of his powers. Back then, Ryu was able to control the market. There was a lot of demand. That’s not the case now. Ryu is four years older, and his objective performance is not as good as it was then. There are other bigger fish to fry, and the strategy cannot be the same. The idea was to maximize profits, even if it was frustrating, and it didn’t make much difference when we signed him, as long as it was in January.
Boras sees plenty of demand in the starting pitching market. “Any starting pitcher who can stay healthy is going to be in demand,” Boras told reporters at the organization’s offseason meetings last November, and he was confident that Ryu would be in the majors in 2024. And Boras’ analysis of the market proved to be accurate. There is a shortage of starting pitchers on the market, and a surplus of demand. Major league teams are diving into the starting pitching market, even at the risk of injury history.
In the process, players who were once in a similar “tier” to Hyun-jin Ryu are finding new teams. The signings of Boras’ clients Sean Munaea (New York Mets) and James Paxton (Los Angeles Dodgers) are noteworthy. Both are left-handers who were tied to similar deals as Hyun-jin Ryu. Munaea signed a two-year, $28 million deal with the Mets. He also has an opt-out (waive the remainder of his contract and become eligible for free agency) after the 2024 season. Paxton, who had never pitched a regulation inning in his major league career, also recently signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Along the way, Boras must have closely monitored teams’ needs in the starting pitching market, and now the time has come for Hyun-jin Ryu. There are still other big-name starters on the market in Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, but they’re for sale. They are options for teams with deep pockets to bolster their bullpens. Ryu is a perfect option for teams that don’t want to spend a lot of money but want to bolster their starting rotation. Different demographics. Boras is more likely to be a two-track player.
Somehow, it looks like Boras’ plan is working out. The top outfielders left in free agency are Cody Bellinger, the top infielders are Matt Chapman, and the top starters are Snell and Montgomery. Coincidentally, they are all clients of Boras. As you can see from the Snell and Bellinger stories, Boras put a very high price tag on them. Clubs balk. But in the end, it’s the teams that don’t upgrade that get chased over time. It’s as if they have no choice but to match Borussia’s price tag. Boras is a genius at this “cliffhanger” tactic. Many of his clients have already made more money with such tactics.
Aside from Snell and Montgomery, there aren’t many starting pitchers left in Ryu’s class. Ryu, Michael Lorenzen, and Mike Clevinger are the most highly valued. The Athletic, a North American sports publication, took a look at the free agent market as of today (Aug. 25). Snell, Montgomery, Clayton Kershaw, Clevinger, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Lorenzen are the most valuable starting pitchers remaining. Just looking at this list, it’s clear that there are only a handful of starters left on the market.
The Athletic ranked Hyun-jin Ryu 36th in its free agent rankings before the offseason, projecting a one-year, $11 million contract. That was a projection, and if you look at the difference between that projection and the actual contract, the latter is almost always larger. It’s not unreasonable to theorize that “inflation has crept into the market,” meaning that Ryu will get a better deal than the $11 million per year he originally expected. Paxton also signed a one-year, $12 million deal, even though he hasn’t shown much of a rebound from his recent elbow surgery. Boras, who spearheaded the Paxton deal, will surely use it as a benchmark for Ryu’s contract. Expect him to get more than that.
As of now, there are no specific rumors circulating between Ryu and any club. The most specific rumor was the New York Mets, which was claimed by John Heyman, a columnist for the New York Post and one of Major League Baseball’s leading sources. Heyman is known for his knowledge of all things major league and for being a very good source of information on Boras’ side. Heyman’s report is noteworthy. While the Mets appear to have pulled out of the race for Munaea, there are still plenty of teams in the market for a starter. It’s time to slowly narrow the angle of the negotiating table.
Look no further than the West, where Ryu is no stranger. Rumors of San Diego’s interest in Hyun-jin Ryu have been circulating for some time now. The Padres need to bolster their starting rotation, but they don’t have a lot of money to spend. A one-year deal for Ryu makes sense. Lee’s former team, San Francisco, is also expected to add at least one more starter. Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels have yet to fill out their starting rotations.
In the East, Baltimore and Miami are the most likely candidates. Both teams need to bolster their starting rotations, but they don’t have the money to sign Snell or Montgomery. There’s a reason why the names of Ryu and other players of his caliber are plastered all over the local media on a daily basis. Baltimore, in particular, is looking to add a starting pitcher before spring training begins. It’s just a matter of price.
With more than 10 teams still in need of starting pitching, the time has come for the market to slowly clear. While all eyes will be on how Boras sells Ryu, it will be interesting to see how Boras sells the rest of the free agent big fish.