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Blue Jays To Sign Hyun-Jin Ryu

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The Blue Jays have signed left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80MM contract, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link).  Ryu’s deal contains full no-trade protection and doesn’t have an opt-out clause, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (Twitter links).  Ryu is represented by the Boras Corporation.
The news ends a spirited market for Ryu’s services, as at least six teams (the Dodgers, Angels, Braves, Padres, Cardinals, and Twins) were all known to have some degree of interest in the southpaw this offseason.  While all of those teams were contenders or were planning to contend in 2020, however, it was the rebuilding Blue Jays who made the big strike, announcing that their own return to contention is coming sooner rather than later.
Ryu joins Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and Shun Yamaguchi as newly-acquired members of Toronto’s rotation, completely overhauling a starting staff that was expected to be a major point of emphasis this winter.  Yamaguchi could wind up in the bullpen if the Jays go with some combination of in-house candidates Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton, Ryan Borucki, or Jacob Waguespack for the final two rotation places.  Star prospect Nate Pearson is also expected to make his big league debut at some point in 2020, so one of those rotation spots could ultimately earmarked for him down the stretch, or the Jays could ease Pearson into the majors as a reliever.
While Pearson may be the ace of the future, Ryu is now firmly the ace of the present.  The 32-year-old (33 in March) lefty finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting last season on the heels of a league-best 2.32 ERA and 1.2 BB/9, as well as a 6.79 K/BB rate, 8.0 K/9, and 50.4% grounder rate.  ERA predictors weren’t quite as impressed (3.10 FIP, 3.32 xFIP, 3.77 SIERA) with Ryu’s performance, while his modest 90.6mph fastball finished in the bottom 11th percentile in both fastball velocity and spin rate.
On the plus side of the Statcast coin, Ryu was also one of the league’s best pitchers in limiting hard-hit balls and exit velocity, and his .263 wOBA was only slightly lower than his .281 xwOBA.  Despite the lack of fastball velocity, Ryu still had the 26th most effective heater of any qualified pitcher in the sport according to Fangraphs’ Pitch Value metrics, while his changeup was one of the ten most effective pitches in all of baseball in 2019.
Perhaps most importantly, Ryu also tossed 182 2/3 innings last year, his highest workload since his 2013 debut season in MLB and the first time he’d topped even the 126 2/3 inning plateau since 2014.  Ryu had only a couple of minimal injured list stints for minor neck and groin soreness in 2019, as opposed to the much more serious setbacks that plagued him earlier in his career.  Shoulder and elbow surgeries limited Ryu to just a single game in 2015-16, he missed close to three months in 2018 due to a torn groin, and IL stints for foot and hip problems limited him to 126 2/3 IP in 2017.
More analysis to come….

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Reds’ Contract With Nick Castellanos Includes Annual Deferrals

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By Jeff Todd | January 29, 2020 at 11:48am CDTThe deal recently struck between Nick Castellanos and the Reds will include some notable deferrals, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). The annual payouts won’t be pushed too far into the future, but will come on a delayed schedule that should assist the team with managing its payroll.
Here’s the full structure of the four-year, $64MM contract, per the report and previously reported information
2020: $16MM salary with $10MM payable during season and $2MM payments on January 15, 2021, February 1, 2021 & January 15, 2022
2021: $14MM salary with $10MM payable during season and $2MM payments on January 15, 2022 & January 15, 2023
2022: $16MM salary with $12MM payable during season and $2MM payments on January 15, 2023 & January 15, 2024
2023: $16MM salary with $12MM payable during season and $2MM payments on January 15, 2024 & January 15, 2025
2024: $20MM mutual option ($2MM buyout)
Add it all up, and this is the full guaranteed payout schedule for Castellanos:
2020: $10MM salary
2021: $10MM salary + $2MM (1/15/21) + $2MM (2/1/21)
2022: $12MM salary + $4MM (1/15/22)
2023: $12MM salary + $4MM (1/15/23)
2024: $2MM buyout (or $20MM salary) + $4MM (1/15/24)
2025: $2MM (1/15/25)
It should be noted: once earned, a given season’s salaries will still be paid by the team even if Castellanos opts out. He has two opportunities to do so, after each of the first two seasons of the contract. Should he opt out, Castellanos would sacrifice the ability to earn additional money under the contract but not the right to receive the deferred payment for what he had already earned.
This deferral schedule is a bit complicated, but doesn’t wildly alter the value of the contract. By comparison, some other contracts — for instance, Max Scherzer’s agreement with the Nationals — have pushed the earnings much further into the future and required rather more significant adjustments to assess the true cost of the signing.

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Kris Bryant Loses Grievance Against Cubs

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By Jeff Todd | January 29, 2020 at 9:06am CDTThe MLB arbitration panel has finally issued a ruling on the grievance brought by Cubs star Kris Bryant against the organization, per Jeff Passan of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Bryant will not be granted an additional year of service time, the panel ruled. He will remain under team control via arbitration through the 2021 season.
Bryant had claimed the Chicago organization manipulated the timing of his initial promotion in order to delay his qualification for free agency. It was an argument with some obvious real-world merit, but one that faced major legal hurdles to success.
The expectation around the game all along was that Bryant would fail, but that couldn’t be known until the decision was formally reached. Now, the Cubs and Bryant have clarity regarding his future … as do other teams with potential interest in trading for the 28-year-old third baseman/outfielder.
It remains difficult to fathom the big-market Cubs parting with a classy, homegrown star who remains a high-quality performer. But there has been persistent chatter surrounding the possibility as the organization looks for creative means of improving. The Cubs reputedly have minimal financial wiggle room owing to a self-imposed pincer of payroll limitations and prior payroll commitments (some underperforming).
We’ll have to see whether talks gain traction over the next two weeks. No doubt teams with interest have already done quite a bit of groundwork with the Cubs, but it was largely hypothetical until this process was completed. There’s still some unmet demand at third base, leaving a potential window to a pre-spring strike.
This ruling also has clear implications for the broader issue of service-time manipulation. While there’s always going to be some grey area as to a player’s readiness for the majors, it’s an open secret around the game that teams slow the promotions of top prospects to delay their eventual free agency.
MLB rules require at least six full years of service to hit the open market. A player is deemed to have accumulated a service year with 172 days of time spent on the active roster. It’s simple math from there: If a team carries a player on the active roster out of Spring Training, that player (presuming no future demotions) can play six full seasons before reaching free agency. If a team instead waits a couple weeks and promotes the player once there’s less than 172 days left on the MLB calendar, that player can not only suit up for the vast majority of that initial campaign, but would remain under control for six full seasons thereafter.
That’s precisely what happened in Bryant’s case, which presented just about the most compelling possible factual scenario to challenge a team’s decision. As the 2015 season approached, Bryant was widely heralded as a top young talent and had dominated the competition in the upper minors. There was a clear roster opening. He had a monster showing in Cactus League action. The Cubs kept him down to open the year and promoted him on the exact day he could first be called up without reaching a full year of service. As of today, Bryant has 4.171 years of MLB service and will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season.
The Cubs did have a smidgen of evidence to call upon to raise some plausible deniability. They had spoken of Bryant’s need to improve his glovework, though that was rather a thin reed. President of baseball ops Theo Epstein noted he had never introduced a player to the majors at the start of a season, though it was never really clear whether and why he actually held an honest philosophical belief of that sort. (You could also flip that argument on its head to an extent.) The best cover came from the fact that infielders Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella both happened to suffer injuries early in the season, which gave the team a good explanation for the suspicious timing of the promotion.
So, was this simply a case of maximizing the utility of a player within the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement? Or was it improper manipulation of those rules? That depends upon how one interprets the CBA and applies it to the facts at hand. It is not accurate to say that the agreement specifically permits manipulation of this kind; neither does it expressly prohibit the consideration of service time in making promotion decisions or provide a clear standard in this realm. As covered in depth at Fangraphs by Sheryl Ring, every contract has an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. There was an argument here that the Cubs ran afoul of that legal doctrine even if they did not clearly break an express provision of the written contract. Of course, there’s also a wide degree of interpretation and a multitude of factors that go into any decision, so even here there was arguably room for some doubt.
The fair dealing doctrine obviously sets a rather malleable standard — one that relies heavily upon precedent and prior industry dealings, and thereby bleeds into the factual realm. As a practical matter, finding a violation is likely to require a compelling factual situation. Bryant had that from a circumstantial perspective, but perhaps he lacked a smoking gun such as a statement from a top team official acknowledging that service-time manipulation drove the decision. (No such statement is known publicly. Neither is it known what level of discovery of documents or witnesses was permitted, if any.)
Now that the Bryant decision is in place, any future such grievances have a clear reference point. It’s difficult to imagine circumstances that would more clearly point to service-time manipulation. Winning a grievance action, then, will presumably require more — some kind of direct evidence of intent from the organization, perhaps — unless a future player can convince a panel to revisit the underlying legal reasoning.

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