On Monday, Hyun-Jin Ryu became just the sixth player ever to accept a qualifying offer. With the acceptance of the QO, Ryu will make $17.9 million in 2019, and he’ll become a free agent at the end of next season.
Ryu’s decision makes sense. The past few years he has had trouble staying on the field; he missed three months this year with a groin strain. He made two different trips to the disabled list in 2017. He threw just 4 1/3 innings in 2016, but that’s 4 1/3 more than he threw in 2015. His 2019 will be an opportunity to prove that he can stay on the mound. If he can do that, a team will pay through the nose for him a year from now.
Signing Ryu to a long-term deal wouldn’t be without its risks. A pitcher with shoulder and elbow problems over the age of 30 is landmine, at least in a vacuum. On the one hand, it was a risk for the Dodgers since they potentially could be spending $17.9 million on a player who won’t be playing for them, but the higher reward makes sense since a) it’s not as if it would be the first time the Dodgers had dead money, and b) the Dodgers can’t afford to take these types of risks.
Ryu, had an outstanding 2018 after a so-so 2017. He pitched to a 1.97 ERA in 82 1/3 innings with a 3.00 FIP and a 2.45 DRA. Even with elbow and shoulder problems, Ryu’s velocity has remained consistent. It’s not a question of whether he’ll pitch well, but if he can pitch at all. If Ryu can stay on the mound, a one-year $17.9 million deal will look like a steal.
But one has to wonder if this is a risk for Ryu. Devan Fink looked at the other five players who have taken the qualifying offer, and he found that only one player, Matt Wieters, made more money the following season. If Ryu had declined the option, he probably wouldn’t make $17.9 million per year, especially when it would have cost his signing team draft picks and international signing money. MLB Trade Rumors predicted he would take three years and $33 million.
Two likely scenarios for Ryu include him pitching well and signing multi-year deal at season’s end, or Ryu could again struggle to stay on the mound and go the way of Brett Anderson: signing a modest one-year deal in another attempt to re-establish his value.
Let’s say Ryu pitches well. He matches or surpasses his Steamer projections of 153 innings, a 3.96 FIP, and 2.2 fWAR. He signs for a similar deal to what he was predicted to be offered this offseason: three years/$33 million. That would bring his total earnings to around $50 million over the next four years.
If he doesn’t pitch well, or he struggle to stay on the field, Ryu could still sign a one-year deal similar to what Brett Anderson signed with the Cubs, which was a $6.5 million contract. Anderson had also accepted a qualifying offer because he was in a similar situation as Ryu. He had trouble staying healthy, but when he was, he generally pitched well. The following season, Anderson made even less signing a $4 million contract with the A’s. If Ryu followed Anderson’s trajectory, that would bring him up to $28.4 over the next three years. That’s not far off from what he was projected to make over the next three years if he rejected the qualifying offer.
If Ryu is leaving money on the table by accepting the qualifying offer, it’s probably not a lot. By accepting the qualifying offer, he has likely maximized his earnings. All he has to do is stay on the field to hit a tremendous payday.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicle, and BP Wrigleyville.