Why the Los Angeles Dodgers Will Overpay for South Korean LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

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Why the Los Angeles Dodgers Will Overpay for South Korean LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Originally reported by Jee-ho Yoo of Yonhap News in late October, the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization officially posted left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu on Friday, Nov. 2.

After accepting bids from all interested teams, Major League Baseball announced on Saturday that the Dodgers entered the highest bid ($25.7 million) and now have 30 days to work out a contract with the Eagles. Although Ryu is represented by Scott Boras, it seems likely that a contract will be negotiated given the amount of the bid and Dodgers’ ever-expanding payroll.

The 25-year-old enjoyed a historic KBO debut as a teenager in 2006, as he was named both the league’s rookie of the year and MVP after posting an 18-6 record with a 2.23 ERA and 205 strikeouts. Ryu garnered international recognition in 2008 as a member of South Korea’s Olympic gold-medal winning team.

He turned an equally impressive performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and was subsequently ranked by Baseball America as the event’s fifth-best prospect, as they had this to say in their scouting report:

He just turned 22, but he already pitches like a veteran. Ryu has four average to above-average pitches, includes a 86-93 mph fastball with late life that he can add and subtract from when needed, a slow curve (75 mph), a tighter slider and a changeup. Already extensively tested in international play, Ryu's biggest asset is his feel for pitching. Scouts have said that he would be a first-round pick if he was in the U.S., and would likely need only a brief period of acclimation before stepping into a big league rotation.

With a starting rotation already comprised of LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Chad Billingsley, RHP Josh Beckett, RHP Aaron Harang, LHP Chris Capuano and LHP Ted Lilly, the addition of Ryu has the potential to shake things up in several ways.

Since Ryu profiles as more of a No. 3-5 starter in the major leagues—remember, the level of competition in the KBO is inferior to Japan’s NPB—it suggests that the Dodgers may be willing to trade either Capuano or Harang. And if a team is willing to gamble on Ted Lilly, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, he’ll presumably be made available as well.

With Capuano, Harang and potentially Lilly no longer in the picture, the Dodgers will possess one of the more impressive Nos. 1-4 (Kershaw, Billingsley, Beckett and Ryu) starting pitchers in the National League.

However, general manager Ned Coletti has reiterated that the team will pursue a frontline right-handed starter—presumably one of the top free-agent starters such as Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez or Kyle Lohse. If that ultimately transpires, then Ryu will slide into the No. 5 spot, where his overall stuff and lack of experience is a cleaner and less-risky option.

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But after the Dodgers spent $25.7 million for the exclusive rights to negotiate with Ryu, one has to wonder what it will cost to sign the southpaw. After submitting the winning bid ($51.7 million) for Yu Darvish last winter, the Rangers and the 25-year-old agreed on a six-year, $60 million contract.

Although Ryu isn’t anything close to the caliber of Darvish—and possesses a substantially lower ceiling—when he was signed, I wouldn’t be surprised if he fetches a similar deal. Considering the parties involved, as well as the team’s willingness to commit $42 million to Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig this summer, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where the Dodgers don’t overpay.

Don’t get me wrong; Ryu has the potential to be effective in some capacity in the major leagues. But given his price tag—including the original bid—and potential role in his first season with the Dodgers, wouldn’t it make just as much sense for them to target a free-agent left-hander such as Jeff Francis or Joe Saunders?

Hell, if the organization wants to explore that route, doesn’t it make just as much sense to retain Capuano and/or Lilly?

One thing is certain: the Dodgers are willing to break the bank in order to retool their starting rotation this offseason. Their growing investment in Ryu isn’t necessarily an act of necessity; rather, the organization apparently has no problem overpaying for the left-hander on the chance that he becomes something special.

While the acquisition of Ryu has the potential to bolster the team’s starting rotation in 2013 and years to come, the Dodgers will also theoretically block their competitors from signing him in future seasons.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the negotiations between Ryu (Boras) and the Dodgers unfold over the next month. Once a deal is in place, we should have a more clear idea of the organization’s plan for the South Korean left-hander.

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