Phillies rumor: How real is the Hyun-Jin Ryu interest?
The latest Phillies rumor is very puzzling given their current position.
Update: Minutes after posting this, Jon Heyman is reporting that Hyun-Jin Ryu is signing with the Toronto Blue Jays for four-years, $80 million. This Phillies rumor does not come to fruition.
The Phillies rumor mill has been virtually dead since the Winter Meetings with the signings of Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler. Since then the Phillies have inked a couple of minor league deals with Phil Gosselin, Mikie Mahtook, and T.J. Rivera, but appear to have already made all of their major moves of the offseason.
Jon Heyman of Fancred came in with a new Phillies rumor Sunday afternoon, making the first connection between Philadelphia and free agent starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.
According to Heyman, the Angels, Padres, Dodgers, Twins, Jays, and possibly the Phillies and a mystery team are in on Ryu, the best available starter still on the market.
This is really the first time the Phillies have been connected to Ryu and this case is somewhat puzzling given their current position.
According to Roster Resource, the Phillies have an estimated payroll of $205 million in 2020, which can still change as arbitration-eligible players sign their new deals. This leaves the front office with less than $3 million to play with before hitting the luxury tax threshold.
General manager Matt Klentak made it known that the club is still looking for starting pitching even after signing Wheeler. The current rotation projects to be Aaron Nola, Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and either Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta. It’s not necessarily a winning rotation, but it’s improved after adding Wheeler. There’s hope that Arrieta will be better after elbow surgery and Eflin’s improvement late in the year.
The front office has also said that they’re willing to go over the luxury tax if the move improves their chances of winning the World Series. Adding the Cy Young runner up who has a 2.71 ERA in his last 69 appearances would be a big step towards competing in a tough division.
If Philadelphia were going to add Ryu, they’d go over the luxury tax in 2020, barring the movement of a large contract such as Arrieta’s or Jean Segura’s. Velasquez is expected to earn around $4 million in arbitration, according to Spotrac, so moving him could also be in play if the Phillies could add a more established piece.
Financial flexibility is on its way with Arrieta and David Robertson’s deals coming off the books next offseason. A contract extension for J.T. Realmuto will have to be worked out by then before he hits free agency, and the future of Gregorius after his one year deal will need to be determined.
Philadelphia has the money, but not the cap space to sign Ryu without paying a multi-million dollar tax. Jim Bowden of The Athletic (subscription required) projected Ryu to make $55.5 million over three years, which is what Dallas Keuchel just got from the White Sox. I’d expect Ryu’s price tag to go up given the market’s demand and his better numbers compared to Keuchel.
Beyond the financial aspects of the Phillies reported interest, there are other questions regarding just how serious their interest could be. Ryu turns 33-years-old in March and has a history of injuries, pitching in just one game between the 2015 and ’16 seasons due to elbow and shoulder surgeries.
Philadelphia has also never appeared to have been a major player for players coming from Japan or Korea. Ryu’s obviously been in the states for many years, but historically the Phillies haven’t dipped into that aspect of the international free agent market when players are posted.
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For Ryu, travel time to his homeland of South Korea would also be even longer if he signed on the east coast, adding about five hours to an already long flight. Staying on the west coast might be ideal if he wants to be somewhat closer to home and in a familiar city by re-signing with the Dodgers or going to the pitching-needy Angels.
After missing out on Dallas Keuchel the Phillies other starting pitching options could be a trade for Robbie Ray or signing a cheap number five starter such as Alex Wood or Drew Smyly.
Right now the chances of Philadelphia signing Ryu are likely slim, but it wouldn’t be a terrible move if they can add an ERA champ to their rotation over someone like Velasquez who could turn an ERA over five. If the money makes sense and Ryu is comfortable moving to the east coast, it should be a no-brainer.