Hanwha Eagles to Post LHP Hyun-jin Ryu

mlbtraderumors.com reported today that the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) intend to post lefty ace Hyun-jin Ryu (to use the western order of his name) for bids by major league teams.  Ryu has already retained agent Scott Boras to represent him in negotiations with the winning bidder.

Ryu is probably the best pitcher in the KBO.  His stats can be found at the bottom of this wikipedia article.  Since 2006, he’s led this KBO in stike outs five times and in ERA twice.  He led the KBO in strike outs again this year, and his 2.66 ERA appears to have been the fifth best in the eight team league.

Ryu will be 26 in 2013 and is listed as 6’2″ and 215 lbs, which sounds like a size major league teams like.  His fastball apparently sits around 90 mph and he can hit 95 mph on occasion.

The biggest knock on Ryu is that it’s much harder to project how a KBO pitcher will do in the majors compared to an NPB pitcher (Japan), since the NPB is much closer to MLB’s level of play.  By way of comparison, two of the top foreign pitchers in KBO this past season were Brandon Knight and Shane Youman (they finished 1st and 3rd in ERA), two over age 30 high minors retreads who had had to resort to pitching in the independent-A Atlantic League to keep their North American careers going before signing with Korean teams.

That being said, the Americans (used broadly) who played in KBO in 2012 (they are all pitchers) almost all have at least some past MLB experience (Mario Santiago was the only one of the 19 foreign pitchers who pitched in the KBO this year who has not played in the majors), and while better than average (that’s what they’re paid for), they didn’t exactly dominate the league.  Former major leaguers Chan Ho Park and Byung-hyun Kim also pitched in KBO this year and were not particularly effective.

As far as I can tell, NPB teams cannot participate in the posting process.  If this is the case, it’s a mistake.  In theory, at least, a Korean star might be worth more to a Japanese team (at least the Yomiuri Giants, Hanshin Tigers or Softbank Hawks) than he is to an MLB team, particularly since a Korean player might be more easily projected as an NPB player and Japanese teams would presumably find it easier to scout Korean players than MLB teams.  Certainly, more potential teams who could post bids would be to the benefit of the posting team.

If Hyun-Jin Ryu does indeed end up signing with a major league team and is reasonably successful, the next Korean import is likely to be Suk-min Yoon, who won a pitcher’s Triple Crown in KBO in 2011.  This year, he posted a 3.12 ERA (8th best in KBO) and struck out 137 (4th best) in 153 innings pitched.  He’s been less consistent Ryu over his career, but Yoon was also terrific in 2008 when he led the KBO in ERA.

Yoon will be 27 in 2014.  If he has a another great season in KBO in 2013, he may be posted by his team the Kia Tigers.

A note here on KBO attendance.  As of late September, KBO games averaged 13,734 fans per game in 2012, up 7% from 2011’s attendance, which had also been the league’s all-time high.  The Lotte Giants, KBO’s best drawing team, became the first KBO team to draw one million fans for the fifth year in a row.

However, only about half of KBO’s eight teams average as many as 10,000 fans a game, which means that there should be strong financial pressure for NPB and MLB to cherry-pick the cream of Korean baseball talent.

For example, KBO superstar Seung-yeop Lee was probably the highest paid player in KBO in 2012.  He signed a $708,000 contract with the Samsung Lions after playing the previous eight seasons in NPB.  The information I have indicates he was paid in excess of $2.5 million per year for at least his first five seasons in Japan.

Similarly, Dae-ho Lee received approximately $9 million to play for the Orix Buffaloes for two seasons last off-season, roughly the same amount that his former KBO team the Lotte Giants, KBO’s wealthiest team, offered him spread out over four seasons.

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2 Comments on “Hanwha Eagles to Post LHP Hyun-jin Ryu”

  1. Burly Says:

    mlbtraderumors.com today reported that the winning bid for Ryu was $25,737,737.33, which is a lot more than I expected. In fact, few NPB pitchers have commanded this much.

    This posting bid means that Ryu’s likely contract will be in the $26M to $30M range, based on past signings of posted players. Ryu will be represented by Scott Boras, so I’m sure that Ryu will get the best contract possible. My guess is that it will be a four year deal, but we’ll see.

    It’s yet another indication that 2012/2013 will be a good off-season for free agents.

    • Burly Says:

      Not surprising that the Dodgers posted the high bid on Ryu. There are a lot of Korean Americans in the greater L.A. area, and teams have traditionally tried to widen their fan bases by finding players who appeal to local ethnic groups.

      For example, the New York Yankees and all their Italian stars starting with Tony Lazzeri. New York teams also loved Irish players; the Giants and Dodgers were the first teams to integrate, in large part due to the large African American population in New York/Brooklyn; and John McGraw spent years trying to find a Jewish star to appeal to New York’s Jewish population.

      Needless to say, the Dodgers were also the first team to strike gold with a Korean born player in Chan Ho Park back in the mid-1990’s.


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