NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Ryu Hyun-Jin grew up in South Korea dreaming of playing in his country's professional baseball league. Once he achieved that, he developed a new goal — to pitch in the United States for a major league team.
Ryu's dream got closer to reality last week when the Los Angeles Dodgers submitted the highest bid for the right to negotiate with the 25-year-old left-hander and his agent, Scott Boras.
Under baseball's posting system, the Dodgers offered $25,737,373.33 to Ryu's team in South Korea, the Hanwha Eagles. Los Angeles settled on that figure because the numbers 3 and 7 are considered lucky in Korean culture.
It was the third-highest posting bid by a big league team for the chance to negotiate a contract with a player from Asia.
The Texas Rangers paid Yu Darvish's former team in Japan $51.7 million last year, and the Boston Red Sox paid Daisuke Matsuzaka's team $51.1 million in 2006.
The Dodgers have exclusive negotiating rights with Ryu through Dec. 10. If no agreement is reached, they won't be required to pay the posting fee to his Korean team — and Ryu will return to Korea to pitch for the Eagles.
Where Ryu would fit into the Dodgers' rotation remains to be seen. They already have a little more than $61 million committed to six starters for the 2013 season: Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano.
But Boras indicated he is confident he can get a deal done with the Dodgers after he meets with general manager Ned Colletti next week. Under new ownership, the Dodgers have shown a willingness to spend more money and could have a 2013 payroll that exceeds $200 million.
"Certainly the Dodgers' conduct makes it very apparent they're interested in being one of the Goliaths, if not the leading Goliath in the game," Boras said while sitting alongside Ryu during a news conference Thursday. "It's clearly a very different world than it was with the prior era."
Boras compared Ryu to four-time major league All-Star Mark Buehrle, a veteran left-hander who signed a $58 million, four-year contract with the Marlins last offseason. Miami is set to trade Buehrle to the Toronto Blue Jays in a blockbuster deal that was awaiting final approval.
Ryu has pitched for seven seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization and was an All-Star each year. He was the rookie of the year and MVP of the league at age 19, and is 98-52 with a 2.80 ERA in his career. He pitched for South Korea when it won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"He comes here with a great pedigree. To accomplish so much at a young age is rare and certainly from our scouting and many others in professional baseball he has been someone who is considered major league ready and capable of pitching in the major leagues at a very high level," Boras said. "He has the ability to command the fastball from 90-95 mph and his changeup is a very elite weapon for him. And he has a quality slider and curveball."
If Ryu signs with the Dodgers, he wouldn't be the first Korean pitcher to join the team. Chan Ho Park pitched for Los Angeles from 1994-2001 and again in 2008.
"Chan Ho's been very influential in my career," Ryu said through a translator. "He's been very helpful, giving a lot of insights of playing in the majors, and he's also given me the dream of playing in the majors. He's been a good alumni in teaching me the ropes and playing in the U.S."
Ryu, who has a brother living in New Jersey, plans to stay and work out in Southern California while Boras negotiates with the Dodgers.