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Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu is returning to Korea. Ryu is signing with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization, the team will announce Wednesday, according to Yonhap News. The contract will make Ryu the highest paid player in the KBO. He reportedly mulled offers from MLB teams before deciding to return to KBO.

Now 36, Ryu began his career with the Eagles and played his first seven seasons in the KBO before signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in Dec. 2012. He was a star and fan favorite in the KBO, most notably becoming the league's first player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season in 2006. Ryu went 18-6 with a 2.23 ERA in 201 2/3 innings as a 19-year-old that year.

From 2006-12, Ryu went 98-52 with a 2.80 ERA with the Eagles, and was an All-Star all seven seasons. It is not at all uncommon for foreign players to finish their careers in their home countries. Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka both returned to their original teams in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, and Shin-Soo Choo is still active in the KBO.

Hyun-Jin Ryu
TOR • SP • #99
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Ryu is fresh off a mixed bag of a four-year, $80 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was third in AL Cy Young voting in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before a serviceable 2021 season. He then needed Tommy John surgery after just six starts in 2022 and came back for 11 starts last season. 

In those 11 starts in 2023, Ryu was 3-3 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 38 strikeouts against 14 walks in 52 innings. He struggled to find consistency and didn't work deep into games, getting at least one out in the sixth inning just one time out of 11. It's understandable that he struggled some coming off such a major surgery at his age.

The Hanwha Eagles went 58-80 in 2023 and had the KBO's second worst record. They went to the Korean Series in 2006, Ryu's rookie year, though they have been one of the least successful KBO teams over the last two decades or so. The Eagles have missed the postseason the last five years and 15 of the last 16 years.

We ranked Ryu as the 41st-best free agent available this offseason. He is MLB's all-time leader among Korean-born pitchers with 18.9 WAR in 10 MLB seasons, narrowly edging out Chan-Ho Park (18.1 WAR) even though he threw over 900 fewer innings than Park in MLB.