New Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin takes part in a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)
LOS ANGELES (AP) ― Flush with cash after the team’s sale this year, the Los Angeles Dodgers are busy spending it on starting pitching.
The team introduced left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin of South Korea on Monday, making him the first player ever to go directly from the Korean league to the major leagues.
And he was just the setup man.
The Dodgers finalized a $147 million, six-year deal with free agent right-hander Zack Greinke later in the day.
“We were definitely hoping for Zack,” said Magic Johnson, a partner in Guggenheim Baseball Management which bought the team last spring. “Zack is a proven winner. When you put him together with Clayton, man, we feel really good.”
The deals for Greinke and Ryu give the Dodgers eight starting pitchers under contract for next season, joining 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang.
That doubles the number of starters the Dodgers had just two years ago.
“Feeling more fortunate than gluttonous,” general manager Ned Colletti said. “It’s better to be sitting where we’re sitting than where we’ve been. It’s rare you need just five pitchers.”
The Dodgers were eager to bolster their pitching this winter knowing that Billingsley (elbow) and Lilly (shoulder) are coming off surgeries.
Johnson called 2009 AL Cy Young winner Greinke “the big one.”
Colletti added, “We believe he brings a lot to this team and to a pitching staff that was already very good.”
Greinke split last season with Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Angels. He went a combined 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 34 starts, and finished the season going 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his last eight starts after Aug. 24.
The 29-year-old pitcher spent his only full season in the NL in 2011, tying a career high with 16 wins.
Greinke pitched from 2004-10 with Kansas City, going 16-8 with a major league-leading 2.16 ERA in 2009 when he won the Cy Young and made the All-Star team.
“When we took over the team, we said we were going to spend money and I guess you guys are seeing that we’re trying to do that,” Johnson said.
Ryu signed a $36 million, six-year deal after talks went down to the final seconds of the negotiating window a day earlier.
“It’s not just the spending but who you’re spending it on,” Johnson said. “It has to be the right guys.”
The Dodgers paid $25.7 million for the right to negotiate with Ryu, whose agent is Scott Boras. If they hadn’t reached a deal by Sunday’s 2 p.m. PST deadline, Ryu would have returned to the Hanwha Eagles and the Dodgers would have been refunded the posting fee they paid for exclusive rights to negotiate with the 25-year-old pitcher.
“This deal came all the way down to the last 10 seconds,” said Johnson, who tried out different versions of Ryu’s name in trying to pronounce it correctly.
Colletti added, “This is the place he wanted to be and we always had that in the back of our mind.”
Ryu cast an imposing figure as he slipped on his No. 99 jersey, the same number he wore with the Eagles. The last Dodgers player to wear the number was Manny Ramirez.
“I didn’t realize he’s this big and strong,” Johnson said. “Stamina-wise, he’ll be able to hold up.”
Ryu was 9-9 with a 2.66 ERA in 27 games last season for the Eagles. He limited opponents to a .232 batting average and led the Korea Baseball Organization with a career-high 210 strikeouts. He has international experience, having pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, including two scoreless relief appearances at Dodger Stadium.
“It’s my honor to play for the Dodgers,” Ryu said through a translator.
He said his goals with the Dodgers would be to reach double-digits in wins, have an ERA in the range of 2.00, and surpass the 84-58 record of former Dodgers pitcher Park Chan-ho, the first South Korean to play in the majors when he made his debut in 1994.
Ryu said he would learn English “little by little” and rely on his catcher’s signals to communicate during games.
“Just tell him with those strikes he’ll communicate properly,” Johnson interjected, drawing laughs from an overflow crowd of team employees and media.
Ryu’s contract includes a clause that doesn’t allow him to be demoted to the minor leagues.
“We can’t be concerned,” Johnson said. “We got to go for it. Our scouts tell us he’s the real deal.”
Colletti said the Dodgers’ confidence comes from having two different sets of scouts tout Ryu. Also, Park put in a good word with the team, having played with Ryu last season in the Korean league.
“He’s got a chance to be really good,” Colletti said. “He’s youthful, but got great competitiveness.”