It finally happened. The Blue Jays made their big, off-season splash that the front office had been hinting at, inking 2019 National League Cy Young runner-up Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year deal worth $80 million.
Mark Shapiro spoke about how there would be payroll flexibility to work with this winter, but many were skeptical that the front office would be in on marquee free agents. After a couple months of free agency rolling by and only a slightly used Tanner Roark and a bunch of we’re being aggressive quotes to show for it, there was worry the Jays would enter 2020 just as they left 2019 — mediocre.
But then this happened. Ryu was one of the best starters in Major League Baseball last season. He finished behind Jacob de Grom for NL Cy Young thanks to a sparkling 2.32 ERA. If not for a minor injury and a couple of bad starts late in the season, Ryu is probably remembered as the best National League starter in 2019.
There’s no other way to put it. This deal is incredibly exciting. Ryu’s contract is the biggest one handed out by the Shapiro front office and it also represents the second-biggest contract in franchise history, behind only Russell Martin’s deal signed before the 2015 season. While there certainly is risk attached to Ryu, as he’ll be entering the American League East for the first time and he’s had a fair share of injuries, but he was also one of the best arms on the free-agent market this year and his signing signals that the team is ready to take a big step forward.
Toronto’s biggest need heading into the off-season was to put together a real Major League rotation. On paper, it looks like they’ve done just that. Ryu is, at the very least, a top-of-the-rotation arm. Bringing him in the fold makes the acquisition of solid, veteran depth starters Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson a lot easier to accept for what they are. There’s now quality and quantity in this starting rotation. The off-season has been a success on that front.
So now there’s an ace in Ryu and quality veterans who can log innings in Roark and Anderson. We’ve come a looooong way from Charlie Montoyo saying there’s nobody else in regards to Edwin Jackson being trotted out every fifth day to throw batting practice.
As I said earlier, there’s no guarantee this deal will pan out. That’s the reality with pitchers. There’s never a guarantee. When you sign a big free-agent starter, maybe you get Max Scherzer, a horse who helps you win a World Series. Maybe you get Johnny Cueto, a guy who has their arm fall off. There’s no exact science here, and while Ryu does have his question marks, he’s a nice blend of elite upside without the massive financial commitment. If this goes south, he won’t completely hemorrhage the team’s payroll for the next decade.
Most importantly, this signals the beginning of better times in Toronto. It likely won’t result in a playoff appearance next year, but the front office is showing everyone, both the fans who pay to watch this team and the young core of players they want to build around, that they’re ready to bring the Blue Jays back to life. That’s what matters most this winter.