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Look, if a pitcher is left handed he doesn’t have to be that good.  Of course it’s nice if he happens to be, especially if you are the team on the hook for a $25.7 million dollar posting bid plus salary if he signs with you.

The Dodgers are gambling on what looks to be the best pitcher in South Korea.  What does that really mean though?  I’ve been to professional baseball games in Korea, it’s roughly comparable to Class AA or maybe the lower edge of Class AAA ball here in the States.  That’s not by any means putting down the Korean Baseball Organization; it actually means the level of ball is pretty good.  Let’s not forget, it may only be the equivalent of Class AA ball, but pretty much all Major Leaguers at some point go through that level of development.

Ryu Hyun-Jin has a lot going for him: He’s a lefty and has four pitches (a 95 mph fastball, slider, curve and wicked changeup), two of them rated as better than average.  He’s won just about every piece of hardware that the KBO has including Rookie of the Year, MVP, a couple of Golden Gloves, five strikeout titles and two ERA titles, and he’s lead the league in wins.  He’s been dominating in the Olympics and World Baseball Classic and since 2010 he’s expressed an interest in coming and playing MLB in the states.

Clearly confidence hasn’t been an issue.

Now if he can negotiate a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers he’ll get a chance.  For the Dodgers the deal will have to make sense by being both long term and probably fairly inexpensive by baseball standards in terms of salary.  While it’s unlikely he’ll get anything remotely like Yu Darvish type money (who commanded $51.7 million in posting fee plus $10 million per year for six years), he’s a client of Scott Boras, who’ll no doubt wring every dollar he can from the Dodgers. 
Korean baseball is a little different
Photo by Thor Matthiasson, used under creative commons license.

Provided they can come to an agreement, Hyun-Jin will find himself in the Dodger rotation April.  But how much value will he bring to the table?  How will his talent translate?  Even Darvish, the best starting pitcher we’ve yet seen out of Asia has struggled mightily at times, and Darvish played against a higher level of competition before coming here.

Now the Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers and other teams who were in on the Hyin-Jin certainly have done their scouting and believe he can contribute at the big league level, but they weren’t ready to jump in more than half as deeply as they did for Darvish.  That doesn’t mean they have doubts, but it certainly means they don’t expect as much from Hyun-Jin.  In their eyes he’ll be solid pitcher, but doesn’t possess what they see as dominating ace type stuff at this level. 

They could be wrong, they could be right.  Hyun-Jin could really be a diamond in the rough and a true bargain when all is said and done.  A solid, proven but not dominating lefty right now will probably earn somewhere in the $12-15 million per year range.

The Dodgers won’t offer anything near that amount because of the risk involved in matching him up against MLB talent, and the workload Hyun-Jin has faced in Korea (averaging 180 innings per season since he was 20), not to mention the posting fee, I wouldn’t be surprised by a salary in the $4-5 million range per year for 5-6 years.

Of course if the Dodgers really believe in him they might go higher, but it seems unlikely when they can find a more proven commodity for similar money in the free agent market.

That said, it’s certainly going to be a negotiation as the Dodgers clearly are in a spending mode and have already made initial contact with a number of free agent pitchers including Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez and Hiroki Kuroda and may have already put some offers on the table to them.

Whatever happens, as Major League scouting continues to ramp up in Asia we’ll be seeing a lot of new talent coming from that direction.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Hyun-Jin fares in the Majors.