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.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 5th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Report: Yanks eying austerity budget for 2014

The Yankees, baseball’s biggest spenders for the better part of two decades, may finally be eying something of a budget, according to a report by Joel Sherman. In a piece on Sunday, the New York Post scribe says that Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and the other 29 teams’ attempts at keeping the Yanks’ spending under control may finally pay off in 2014 as the New York front office wants to bring its payroll below the luxury tax threshold. If the Yanks are truly intent on reducing costs, the club will not overpay for long-term deals in the near future and may focus on ushering in a new round of young players instead.

Sherman, who noted that this drive toward fiscal control has them lukewarm on top free agent pitchers Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson, explained the rational behind the Yanks’ thinking:

As an organization, they are saying they are driven to have a payroll of $189 million or less in 2014 when that becomes the luxury tax threshold. Because the incentives that come via the new CBA are just too great for them to ignore.

For if they are at $189 million or less for the three seasons from 2014-16, they not only avoid paying one cent in luxury tax, which would rise to 50 percent for them as repeat offenders, but they also would get roughly $40 million in savings via the to-be-implemented market disqualification revenue sharing program. However, only teams under the luxury-tax threshold get reimbursed in this program, which is designed to prevent big markets such as Toronto and Washington from receiving revenue sharing dollars, which in turn will lower how much teams such as the Yanks pay (as long as they are under the threshold).

And even if they just went under $189 million for 2014 before going over again in 2015, the Yankees would receive serious benefits. They would get about $10 million in the revenue sharing disqualification program. Also, by simply going under the threshold once, the Yankees would go back to having a 17.5 percent tax rather than the 50 percent that begins in 2014 for them if they never go under. Keep in mind that since the luxury tax went to 40 percent for them in 2005, the Yankees have averaged paying $25.75 million in tax annually.

So what’s going on here? How could the Yankees, who enjoy the edge of money with their new stadium, TV deal and various other revenue sources, suddenly become fiscally conservative? There are, in effect, three answers. First, the Yankee sources who are talking to Joel Sherman are being truthful. The Yankees know what they stand to gain by getting their payroll under $189 million in 2014, and they think they have the young pieces to do so. Plus, as Sherman writes, the Yankees say, “The big-name guys are a waste of time. We are not spending that kind of money.”

Next, they could be bluffing. Maybe they’re playing coy now to make a bigger move later in the year. If any free agent player wants to come to New York but the Yanks don’t want to meet that player’s asking price, it’s in the club’s best interest to put forward a plausible explanation for future that is fiscally conservative. Maybe they want to go big on Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes but do not want to overplay their hand now.

Third, they’re laying the groundwork now in order to play it coy next winter. Right now, they have $72 million tied up in three players in 2014 — A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. They know that they’ll have to deal with Robinson Cano‘s, Curtis Granderson‘s and Nick Swisher‘s free agencies within the next two offseasons, and they will likely want to retain two of those three if not all three. Plus, the free agent pitchers could include Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Anibal Sanchez while Mariano Rivera‘s current deal — and perhaps his career — is set to end after 2012 as well. That’s a whole lotta holes the Yanks are going to have to fill with an eye toward the 2014 luxury tax benefits.

Ultimately, then, baseball’s long-term effort to rein in the Yanks’ spending may be coming to a head, at least temporarily. Baseball has incentivized the Yanks to drop their payroll under the luxury threshold for at least a season. In 2007, the Yanks spent $189 million and won 94 games. They’ve spent over $200 million every year since then and will likely do so again in 2012. Change may be on the horizon though, and if it comes, it could benefit the Yanks’ bottom line tremendously as they gear up for another half decade of exorbitant spending.

Report: Reyes headed to the Marlins

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Marlins and Jose Reyes have agreed to a six-year contract worth $106MM. The deal does not include a no-trade clause, and Jon Heyman says the plan is to move Hanley Ramirez to third base. I’d like to see them try him in center field, but that’s just me. To make matters worse for the Mets, they’re only going to get Florida’s third round draft pick as compensation (in addition to the supplemental first rounder). Ouch.

The Yankees were never serious suitors for Reyes, especially not that price. The first domino of the Winter Meetings has fallen though, and the next four days are sure to be fun.

Open Thread: Hello From Dallas

Forgive the crappy cell phone camerawork, but that’s the official “Welcome to the Winter Meetings” sign in one of the lobbies here at the Hilton Anatole in rainy Dallas. That guy on his phone in the background is actually Mitch Williams, the MLB Network analyst and the pitcher that gave up Joe Carter’s World Series clinching walk-off homer in 1993. You have to figure that’s something he thinks about at least once a day, right?

Anyway, the Yankees made a handful of transactions at last year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, most notably re-signing both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. They also made a pair of Rule 5 Draft picks, but most of their time was spent wooing Cliff Lee and feigning interest in Carl Crawford. It certainly feels like we could be in for a slow week this year, but you never really know. The first official order of business comes tomorrow afternoon, when teams have to set their 40-man rosters for Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft by 5pm ET. The Yankees do have one open spot on their 40-man at the moment, so if they clear another spot(s) tomorrow, we’ll know they have their eye on a player or two come Thursday.

Pitching figures to be the popular topic for the next four days, in terms of both free agency and trades. Bench help and general depth is also on the agenda. The Yankees do appear content to wait the market out though, and in fact Brian Cashman won’t even get here until tomorrow afternoon. Unlike last year — when they had an obvious target — we’re in the dark as far as their plans go. I don’t know about you, but I think that makes things more exciting.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Lions and Saints are your late football game (8:20pm ET on NBC), but feel free to talk about anything you want here. It’s all fair game, have at it.

Mailbag: Joel Zumaya

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Jon asks: Should the Yankees have any interest in Joel Zumaya?

Oh yes, absolutely. There’s no way they could give him anything more than a minor league contract though, the guy just can not stay healthy. Zumaya hasn’t pitched in a game since suffering that scary injury against the Twins in June of 2010 (video), a fractured elbow that required two surgeries. He’s also missed time with numerous shoulder surgeries and a finger problem throughout the years. Paying the new $100k retention bonus will suck, but that’s the cost of doing business these days.

Despite all those arm problems, Zumaya was still sitting (sitting!) right around 99-101 mph with his fastball at the time of his injury last season. It’s been five years since he’s thrown more than 40 IP in a season, so we have no idea what his current performance level is like. If he gets back to what he was in 2010, we’re talking about a guy with a good (but not great) strikeout rate (7.98 K/9) and a strong walk rate (2.58 BB/9) to go along with a lot of fly balls (just 35.8% grounders in his career). Typical power pitcher kinda stuff.

It’s tough to consider Zumaya anything more than a total wildcard at this point, he’s the definition of a scrap heap pickup. One thing he has going for him is age, having just turned 27 last month (five months older than David Robertson). Zumaya is scheduled to work out for teams later this month, and about ten clubs are expected to attend the showcase. It’s unclear if the Yankees will be one of those teams, but I would guess yes. They seem to scout basically everyone. It’s just a question of Zumaya’s preference, since he figures to get a whole lot of minor league offers.