Joe Ryan, the starting pitcher for the United States baseball team in these unusual Olympics, sat down with his colleagues for breakfast in the Athletes Village at 7:30 a.m. on his first day in Japan. A lot stranger stuff was coming his way soon.
At the Olympic Games, Joe Ryan was traded.
As a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, he sat down to eat. He awakened in the guise of a Minnesota Twin.
It’s strange, Ryan says. “Returning will be very different from what I had expected.”
Stranger still, he isn’t the only one in this Peculiar Predicament.
The Twins acquired two Olympians in as many days when they acquired Team USA pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson a week later from the Toronto Blue Jays.
To get to Saturday’s championship game against Japan, Ryan has been America’s most important pitcher.
He’s a good representation of the competition’s underlying dynamics, too. The Japanese have a lot of superstars. American teams have players that were acquired in exchange for future stars.
All of the Players on the American Baseball Roster Share one Trait:
They aren’t currently active in the major leagues. That is not to say they won’t be in the future. Perhaps in a prior life they played in the major leagues. That said, they aren’t at the moment. That’s why it would be such a huge shock if the United States were to beat a Japanese team consisting largely of the country’s greatest players.
Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s premier professional league, put its season on hold for the Olympics, allowing the team to field a squad comprised largely of the country’s best players.
Tomoyuki Sugano, a pitcher, is the reigning Most Valuable Player of the Central League, and the squad also has Tetsuto Yamada, a second baseman, and Munetaka Murakami, a third baseman who is 21 years old and considered a superstar.
Even without Shohei Ohtani, the most transcendent Japanese baseball player in the world, Japan was usually considered to have the strongest roster.
The Americans were unable to sign players from Major League Baseball, so they had to cobble together a team from the guys they could find.
Former big leaguers like Todd Frazier, who was released by the Pirates in May, and 37-year-old pitcher Scott Kazmir, who spent over a decade in the majors before making a brief comeback in 2021, are examples. U.S. designated hitter Tyler Austin (.429 BA) is used to playing in Japan thanks to his NPB team, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, who play their home games in the city’s namesake Yokohama Stadium.
Eddy Alvarez, the team’s second baseman, was an Olympic speedskater before taking up baseball and making it to the majors in 2020 after the Miami Marlins experienced a Covid-19 outbreak.
They’re all Pretty much Joe Ryan Clones.
Team manager Mike Scioscia has noted, “We have a bunch that includes both old, experienced players who have played in the major leagues and young guys on the road up.” Yes, we are proud of our young talent.
Team USA was only allowed to recruit players who were not on their respective MLB teams’ 40-man rosters, therefore it was unable to sign either Jacob deGrom or Mike Trout.
The Red Sox see a bright future in first baseman Triston Casas. The Tampa Bay Rays could soon have Shane Baz as the lynchpin of their rotation. Baz’s teammate on the Triple-A Durham Bulls, the Rays’ affiliate, was Ryan as of two weeks ago.
From Halfway Around the world, Ryan and Baz had a Sense that they Might be Traded.
The baseball trade deadline occurred during the Olympics, which presented a unique challenge for the Rays, one of the league’s finest teams. Because of their youth and potential, they would be excellent trade chips for a team looking to acquire a veteran player in the major leagues.
When word of the trade finally broke, it was revealed that the team that made the deal was the Rays, and that the player they had acquired was none other than superstar hitter Nelson Cruz. Both Ryan and Baz looked at each other and remarked, “Well, it’s probably one of us.”
Finally, they looked at their phones. A business executive from Tampa Bay tried to reach Ryan but was unsuccessful. As far as he was concerned, that made him officially a member of the Minnesota Twins.
So far, he hasn’t let that Derail his Status as the American Rotation’s Rock.
After 10 and a third innings, his earned run average is 1.74, which is better than any other American pitcher in the tournament by five innings.
He pitched six scoreless innings in the opening, a matchup with Israel. When Ryan again allowed only one run in the semifinal against South Korea, Scioscia didn’t think twice about giving him the ball again.
FanGraphs ranks Ryan as the Twins’ tenth-best prospect, which is a tribute to Minnesota’s confidence in him and his potential at the time of the Cruz trade. There are other American pitchers with trade experience on Team USA. In this case, Baz and Woods Richardson had seen it all before.
As part of the deal that sent ace pitcher Chris Archer to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018, Baz was included in the trade. The 2019 season began with the New York Mets trading Woods Richardson to the Toronto Blue Jays for Marcus Stroman.
Then, last week, Minnesota acquired Woods Richardson from Toronto in exchange for starting pitcher Jose Berrios. Richardson had been playing at the double-A level.
Ryan’s time in Japan has been such a whirlwind that he hasn’t even had time to consider the most fundamental aspect of his upcoming relocation: where he’ll live.
He claims he loses money every month owing to the low wages in the minor leagues and now has to find out how to move all of his furniture to a new place.
That’s going to be a tough one,” he admits.
He plans to return to Durham, pack up his flat with his girlfriend, and then travel from Durham to Minnesota. When asked about the specifics, he claims he always gets the same answer from the Twins’ front office: “I don’t know.”
Take home the gold, and we’ll have a chat when you get back.