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All Smiles at Dodger Stadium, For Now

ryu.jpg
Ryu Hyun-Jin speaking at a press conference at Dodger Stadium announcing his signing. (LA Dodgers/Jon SooHoo, used with permission)
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To steal from the GEICO commercials, Dodger fans are happier than a witch at a broom factory, a slinky on an escalator. After what had been a quiet offseason, the Dodgers exploded all over baseball signing free agent right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke on Saturday and South Korean southpaw Ryu Hyun-Jin on Sunday. Including the posting fee for Ryu, the Dodgers spent more than $210 million in two days for the two starting pitchers.

There were plenty of smiles at the press conference introducing Ryu to Los Angeles on Monday, perhaps none bigger than Ryu himself. When he found out that the deal was made at the very last second, "I screamed with joy," he said.

Ryu acknowledged that there was some talk about different teams right after he posted, but once the Dodgers won the bidding he was overjoyed for more reasons than going to the same team that first signed Park Chan-Ho.

"When this process started I was hoping to be a Dodger because of the big Korean community here," Ryu said. "It will make my transition to America much easier."

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There is a huge difference between the competition between the Korean Baseball Organization and the MLB. "I will need to work harder this winter in Korea," Ryu said. "I want to prove that there will be no problems in the transition."

General manager Ned Colletti downplayed any concerns with the transition. "We probably had more background on him that we typically would with a player from another country," he said. "We knew he wanted to play."

In the KBO, Ryu posted a 2.80 ERA over seven seasons with 1,238 strikeouts compiling a 98-52 record with the Hanwha Eagles. He averaged 181 innings per season topping out with 211 innings pitched in the 2007 season.

Ryu also went 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA in the 2008 Beijing Olympics earning a silver medal and went 1-0 in the 2009 World Baseball Classic with a 2.57 ERA.

For Ryu it's simple. "In Korea I just followed my catcher's signs and threw the ball to the mitt. In America I will follow my catcher's signs and throw the ball to the mitt."

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While Colletti admired Ryu's results in international competition, he understood that it still was not Major League competition. "But everything we've seen up to that point leads us to believe that he's more than capable of doing that as the season goes along," Colletti added.

A big issue will be communication since Ryu does not speak English. Add that to the list of things for him to work on. "Little by little I will learn English," Ryu said. "In a few years, I will make sure I can conduct an interview in English."

At least he is thinking of the media a little bit.

Perhaps one thing nagging on the minds of Dodger fans is the 99 he chose to wear. "It's a number I've worn in Korea, and I'm hoping it will serve me well here in America," Ryu said unaware of the Manny Ramirez connection.

Ryu's new teammate Zack Greinke will be introduced by the Dodgers on Tuesday as he is presented to the Korean community for the first time outside of Radio Korea's studios in Koreatown at noon.

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One thing keeps gnawing on my mind.

"When we took over the team, we told you guys we were going to spend money," Magic Johnson said. "We were going to do what we had to do to make sure we brought a winner to Los Angeles. I guess you guys are seeing that we are trying to do that."

The 2008 Yankees set the benchmark for opulent payrolls coming in at $209 million. They went 89-73 which was only good for third place in the AL East. In fact despite the Yankees spending the most during the 2000s, the Yankees lay claim to only two World Series titles.

During the Fox years the Dodgers were usually up there in spending with the Yankees, yet they couldn't make the playoffs.

So the Dodgers are throwing money at players. Does this make them a good team?

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"It's clear what our expectation is," general manager Ned Colletti said.

In other words, not necessarily.

It's nice to have Clayton Kershaw, Ryu, Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, healing Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford both of whom are progressing as expected. But it comes down to getting the wins when they count.

"The rest of it is now getting that focus and getting that fierceness that you need to able to compete with and to compete at the highest level," Colletti said. "There's great accountability with this and it's greater expectations from everybody."

It's World Series or bust, and with this payroll in excess of $210 million and still climbing. The Dodgers still need a left-hander in the bullpen, an anchor in the left side of the infield and perhaps a left fielder to spell for Crawford until he makes his return around May or June.

I have complete faith in Mattingly and his staff despite his penchant for sacrifice bunts and a stray double-switch here and there. But this superstar lineup that's assembled, I'm a little less certain about their ability to bring home a championship.

There's no doubt that they are pumped at this All-Star team.

"We've been getting calls from all of the guys," Johnson confirmed. "They are so excited, they can't wait to get started."

That's fine. But will Kemp be healthy enough to repeat his near-MVP season from 2010? Will Ethier say healthy enough in the season to complement Kemp? Will Ramirez be able to field a ball at shortstop? Will Crawford, when healthy, regain his potency from 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays? What can we expect from the rotation outside of Kershaw and Greinke?

There are a whole lot of question marks surrounding this team and their $200+ million payroll.

It's nice there are a lot of smiles, hugs and high-fives going around in the middle of December. But if there is no baseball for Los Angeles in late October and early November, you can bet there won't be any this time next year.