The Hiroki Kuroda Option


(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The name Hiroki Kuroda is no stranger to these webpages. We spent quite a bit of time talking about him at the trade deadline a few months ago, but the Yankees have liked him long before that. They had interest in him when he hit trade waivers in August of 2010, then again after the season as a Cliff Lee backup plan. Kuroda agreed to re-sign with the Dodgers during the exclusive negotiating window, so he never actually hit the open market last winter.

This offseason, Kuroda is absolutely on the market. Despite his well-known affinity for Los Angeles, but the Dodgers opted to spread the wealth around and sign Juan Rivera, Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy, Matt Treanor, and Chris Capuano rather than bring back their veteran right-hander. Kuroda is now a man without a home, though he is not a man without options. The Hiroshima Carp — his employer from 1997-2006 — have a standing offer on the table, and in a weak pitching market, big league clubs figure to line up with offers as well.

Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that Kuroda is willing to sign pretty much anywhere after the Capuano deal effectively ended his tenure in Chavez Ravine. He’s looking for $12-13M per year according to Buster Olney, which is essentially what he’s made in each of the last three seasons. When Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle are two of the three best pitchers on the free agent market, yeah, Kuroda starts to look real good at the price. Since he’s 36 years old (37 in February), it won’t have to be a long-term deal either, so that makes him even more desirable.

I broke down Kuroda’s game at the deadline, so there’s no sense in repeating it all again. Just click the link for a refresher. I will add one thing though; after posting a 50.7% ground ball rate from 2008-2010, Kuroda got a ground ball just 43.2% of the time in 2011. As a result, his homerun rate jumped from 0.73 HR/9 (8.4% HR/FB) from 2008-2010 to 1.07 HR/9 (11.3% HR/FB) in 2011. None of his other peripheral stats changed, he didn’t lose any velocity, didn’t drastically change his pitch usage … the number of fly balls just spiked. That can be a bit scary when you’re talking about a pitcher this age, especially one who had the comfort of pitching in the pitchers’ park in a pitchers’ league.

Ultimately, I think it’s going to come down to someone offering him a two-year deal. I’m certain there will be a ton of one-year offers out there, so it’ll probably be that guaranteed second year that puts someone over the top. The Red Sox had interest in Kuroda at the deadline and have again have interest in him this offseason, but apparently they’ll have to move some payroll around to make it work. Perhaps Bobby Valentine’s history in Japan will give them a leg up, who knows. The Rockies, Angels, and Diamondbacks have all expressed interest in Kuroda this winter, and those last two clubs are pretty damn close to Los Angeles.

We know the Yankees already have a lot of money tied up in their roster and aim to trim their 2014 payroll for luxury tax purposes, but it would be very tough for them to find another pitcher of Kuroda’s caliber on a short-term deal. I don’t love the idea of a two-year pact, not with the significant decrease in ground balls, but two years for Kuroda sounds a whole lot better than three years for Buehrle, four-plus years for either Jackson or C.J. Wilson, or a prospect package for one year of John Danks.

Categories : Hot Stove League


  1. Paul from Boston says:

    “Kuroda starts to look real good at the price.”

    No he doesn’t. Not at his age with his stuff declining. He’s decidedly average in interleague play and he gets lit up by better teams.


    • Mike Axisa says:

      …he gets lit up by better teams.

      Not sure what you’re basing that off of. He’s been pretty awesome against the Phillies, Cardinals, Reds, Braves, etc. in his career:

      • Paul from Boston says:

        And pretty meh to bad against the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Brewers. If looks like he’s largely cleaned up against the Pirates and Astros. And against the Padres and Giants, hardly offensive juggernauts, he’s not all that impressive.


        I’d much rather Wilson on a four or five year deal, and as a southpaw, than Kuroda on a three or four year deal. You’re dreaming if you think he’ll only get a two-year deal.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          And pretty meh to bad against the Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Brewers.

          So doesn’t that just point out the absurdness of your statement? Did well against some very good teams, poorly against some others, and … what? He’s like every other pitcher in the history of baseball?

          I’d be stunned if he got three years as well.

          • Paul from Boston says:

            And interleague shows the overall trend. He’s an average pitcher outside his division and league. Sub-2.00 ERAs against the Pirates and Astros in 14 career starts (of 114) will do that for a pitcher.

            Stunned? He’s 36 with “good” numbers. If Derek Lowe can get four years coming out of LA, that’s surely available to Kuroda too. Know your market.

            • Mike Axisa says:

              It’s eleven interleague starts, not even 10% of his career total.

              • Paul from Boston says:

                Add in those starts against the Pirates and Astros and you’re talking almost 25% of his career.

                He’s just not very good. $12-13 million for an average pitcher is overpaying, especially since he’ll get three years. Even two years from the Yankees is too much given next year’s market and their farm.


                • Mike Axisa says:

                  Good grief. Take out the Pirates, Astros, and Padres — 28 career starts, 24.6% of his career — he still has a 3.70 career ERA.

                  Andy Pettitte also spent a lot of time beating up on bad teams and getting hit around by good ones:


                  Every pitcher pitches better against bad teams, it’s not a knock against them.

                  • Paul from Boston says:

                    “he still has a 3.70 career ERA”

                    Dear God. In the NL West and NL in general, that’s not a positive attribute.

                    Pettitte spent almost his entire career in the AL East. What happened when he went to the NL Central?

                    The interleague for Kuroda, even as a smallish sample, looks about right. You want to pay $13 million a year for 3 years of league average performance?


                  • Plank says:

                    Good grief is the greatest expression of all time.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      What acquisition do you prefer instead? There’s a downside to any acquisition… so simply pointing it out doesn’t help much.

  2. UYF1950 says:

    Mike, how does a package deal sound for Ervin Santana? If the Angels sign CJ Wilson, Santana could be expendable to trim some payroll for the Angels.
    What do you think as an alternative to the ones you mention in your piece above?

  3. I’ve always liked him, 2 years really does sound perfect.

  4. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    I think Kuroda signs with Seattle…..because he’s Japanese.

  5. candyforstalin says:

    kuroda, on a 1-year deal, would be a perfect fallback in case the darvish thing doesn’t go the yankees way. but i think they’re perfectly content with garcia and noesi.

  6. Jose M. Vazquez.. says:

    I will pass on Kuroda. First, he has pitched mostly in the NL west parks that are pitcher’s parks excepting Arizona and Colorado. Second, he is 36, even pitchers are declining at that age. And lastly, he would have to pitch to power lineups in the AL East the likes of he’s never seen. Taking all this into account, I pass.

  7. Goob says:

    I also don’t believe that he will get a three year deal. I wonder if a one year offer at ~15 mil could work?

  8. Granderslam says:

    I am surprised we haven’t heard the Yankees name attached to Kuroda yet this offseason.

  9. Steve (different one) says:

    Is Kuroda a type A? Assuming he isn’t, since the article prob would have mentioned that, I would look to overpay for a 1 year deal. Something like $17m.

    • Jose M. Vazquez.. says:

      He is no Roger Clemens to deserve that kind of money.

      • Steve (different one) says:

        Well Clemens got $28m…but I agree it’s an overpay. An intentional one, to buy the flexibility of a one year deal and incent him to pick your offer. I would like this and then they continue to pursue Darvish. But since that process could take a while, you are not left holding the bag if you miss out. I would be pretty comfortable starting the season with the current roster, kuroda, and some bench tinkering.

  10. Cy Pettitte says:

    1 year deal – definitely
    2 year deal – only if it means that they want a FA and as a result they pass on EJax and CJ or it keeps them from overpaying for Danks
    3 year deal – no way. pass.

    I think as a 1 year deal he’s the perfect stop gap to get to the 2012 free agent pitchers. They can do CC/Kuroda/Freddy and let AJ, Phil, Nova and Noesi compete for 4/5 spots.

    • Paul from Boston says:

      Sure, on a one year deal I’d take just about any one at market rates. Except Kuroda will get more than one year and he ain’t a number 2.

      • Cy Pettitte says:

        I’m just saying that if they are dead set on a free agent signing or trading for Danks and the options are 2 years of Kuroda, 4-5 years of Jackson, 5-6 years of Wilson or trading two high level prospects like Manny and Montero for a year of Danks I take Kuroda every time.

        If they don’t think that what they have now will work this year then the only two moves I would make are either Kuroda or Darvish, but only if they think Darvish is a legitimate #2 type pitcher. I don’t think any of the other guys are worth it.

      • Jose M. Vazquez.. says:

        Agree he is not a #2, I don,t think a #3 either. I would rather give the spot to Noesi who is younger and has more upside.

  11. Bronx Byte says:

    Prefer a LH over Kuroda.

  12. Ted Nelson says:

    Would fit nicely with the alleged $189 million plan… shephard the kids into the rotation and come off the payroll at just the right time.

  13. CJ says:

    Kuroda will get 2 years. There will not be any “bargains” in this market especially for the Yankees. The only way they will be able to trade for a player without giving up montero or Banuelos will be to take on salary. Texas, Washington Anaheim, Toronto, Philadelphia and still Miami have big money to spend in this market. Add Baltimore, Cubs, Arizona, detroit Boston and st Louis and Milwaukee if the lose Albert/prince possible big spenders, this is a seller’s market.

  14. Billion$Bullpen says:

    One year at that $ amount im in, other than that I would pass.

  15. Rational Yankee Fan says:

    Thank you Mike for posting this. I couldn’t understand why more Yankee blogs didn’t light up more with “Go get Kuroda” headlines.

    From a rational standpoint picking up Kuroda should be a no-brainer. He gives the Yankees PLENTY of flexibility in that he wants a one-year deal (to give himself flexibility) and at most would cost only 2 years. This fits in perfectly with their plan of keeping under $189 in 2014, gives them time to develop their own guys, or if they don’t develop delve into the 2012 FA class.

    A couple of points to silence some of the uninformed detractors:
    -Yes, his career Interleague ERA is 4.33 ERA, HOWEVER, that is a small sample size (68 IP) which as we all know introduces elements of luck. If you look at the peripherals they are fantastic (1.15 WHIP, 5 K/BB ratio, 7.2 K/9) and render 3.78 FIP. I suspect that he got a bit unlucky with some flyballs turning into HR’s as well as he gave up 9 in 68 IP and that his xFIP would probably be a tad lower.
    -As a counter to the “well, he pitches in Dodger Stadium” argument, Kuroda’s pitching splits aren’t all that different Home vs Away (3.44 vs 3.67 FIP).
    -He actually has better career numbers against above .500 teams than he does against sub .500 teams: 3.28 ERA/658 OPS vs 3.61 ERA/687 OPS.
    ==>VERY RARE FOR PITCHERS and a good sign that he can handle the dominant competition you are more likely to face in the AL East/playoffs. Note: guys like Buerhle see a huge spike in ERA and OPS against when facing >.500 teams (3.45 ERA vs 4.22 ERA for >.500 teams).

    Draft up the contract now. Either 1 year $15 mil, 2 years $27 mil. No 30% luxury tax markup we would have to pay if we signed a EJax or CJ in in years 3-5 of the deal, more time to see what we got in the youngsters, and if we do need to make a FA splash do it when there’s quality talent available after the 2012 season (e.g. Cain, Hamels, Marcum, Liriano, Greinke, Danks, Guthrie). Arguably, all of whom are better than anyone available this year.

  16. I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

    IF it’s true, and I have ample reason to believe it is, that he is only looking for a 1 year deal, then there is also ample reason to believe that that is what he will take. All accounts are that he was very much “good” with LA (the city) and never wanted to play elsewhere. And obviously it’s the only ML team he’s known. A one year deal gives him a low (personal) risk opportunity to check it out elsewhere, especially important given the cultural angle of not also the distance to his home country.

    I think the only way he takes a 3 or even 2 year deal is if someone truly overpays for said years. If he really does want $12/13mm for a year, then call it $29mm/2 or $45mm/3. As in: Really truly overpaying him and buying out any concern he might otherwise have that he wouldn’t be happy in another city on another team.

    I honestly think 1/$14mm gets it done for us, and I think we should at that price and duration.

  17. JT says:

    Sign him for a 1yr deal, as long as we have an unspoken deal in place to move AJ (eating 50% of his contract) in case we win Darvish. I don’t want a Kuroda deal preventing us from getting Darvish.

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