Poll: Hiroki Kuroda and the Qualifying Offer

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

One way or another, the World Series will be over within the next 48 hours. The offseason calendar kicks in the day after the new champion is crowned, and the first item of business is the qualifying offer. Teams have until the fifth day after the end of the World Series to extend the offer to their impending free agents, meaning they’ll be handed out no later than next Monday.

The Yankees have one slam dunk qualifying offer candidate in David Robertson and a bunch of other guys who are not eligible for the offer, like Brandon McCarthy, Stephen Drew, and Chase Headley. They also have one borderline candidate in veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who has yet to decide whether he will play next season. He’s contemplated retirement in each of the last two seasons before returning to New York.

The club made Kuroda the qualifying offer the last two offseasons because it was a no-brainer. Sure, he was getting up there in age, but Kuroda had pitched like a borderline ace in the previous year each time and it was only a one-year contract. A pricey one-year contract, but a one-year contract nonetheless. It was perfect. Kuroda only wanted one-year deals because he was unsure about his future and the Yankees got a quality pitcher while avoiding long-term risk.

All of that applies this winter except for the borderline ace part. Kuroda wasn’t bad this past season by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn’t as good as he was from 2012-13 either. His 3.71 ERA was nearly half-a-run worse than the 3.31 ERA he posted last year and the 3.32 ERA the year before that. Otherwise Kuroda’s performance was pretty damn close to what he did the previous two seasons. Check it out:

FIP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% Whiff% FB velo
2012 3.86 18.7% 5.7% 13.0% 52.3% 9.6% 91.3
2013 3.56 18.2% 5.2% 10.3% 46.6% 9.9% 90.6
2014 3.60 17.8% 4.3% 10.0% 46.9% 9.9% 90.7

If you hadn’t watched a single Yankees game this summer and just looked at the numbers, you’d think he was the same old Kuroda. Everything is right in line with the last two years aside from his ERA. His line drive rate was lower than last year (21.0% vs. 22.0%) and left-handers didn’t hit him any harder (.312 wOBA vs. .322 wOBA) either. Kuroda’s numbers at Yankee Stadium this year (3.89 ERA and 3.83 FIP) were substantially worse than they were from 2012-13, however (2.57 ERA and 3.45 FIP).

The qualifying offer has been set at $15.3M this year, a touch lower than the $16M Kuroda earned in 2014. It’s a very reasonable salary for a mid-rotation workhorse on a one-year contract. Any hesitation to make Kuroda the qualifying offer is not based on the money (even though the Yankees don’t appear to have a ton to spend this winter). The only question is whether giving a soon-to-be 40-year-old starting pitcher with a history of fading in the second half — to be fair, Kuroda didn’t fade in 2014, he actually got better in the second half — is the best use of that money.

The Yankees need pitching this winter. That’s not really up for debate. Returning starters CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), and Ivan Nova (elbow) all have injury concerns, and others like Shane Greene and David Phelps are nice young stopgaps at this point, not rotation anchors. Adding a veteran starter or two is a necessity. If he wants to continue pitching — far from a given — is Kuroda the right veteran starter? If not given his age, does that make the qualifying offer too risky? The Yankees could end up with a pitcher they don’t feel too comfortable with in 2015.

It’s worth noting Kuroda declined the qualifying offer these last two winters and instead negotiated new contracts at a higher base salary. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to get more than $15.3M on a one-year contract this offseason but I wouldn’t rule it out at all. Kuroda’s family still lives in Los Angeles and both the Angels and Dodgers need rotation help. I’m sure many other clubs would have interest if he decided to continue pitching even with draft pick compensation attached. If Kuroda wants to continue pitching, he’ll find a job. Is that enough to justify the qualifying offer?

Qualifying offer for Kuroda?

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Thursday’s other farewell: Hiroki Kuroda likely making final start in pinstripes

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Later tonight, Derek Jeter will play his final home game at Yankee Stadium. We’ve known this was coming for months now but I still can’t believe it. I grew up watching Jeter’s career from start to finish and I’m finding it impossible to imagine a world in which he isn’t the shortstop of the Yankees. I’m certain tonight will be memorable regardless of the weather forecast. Everything Jeter does is memorable.

Tonight’s game will also feature another, much less celebrated farewell. Hiroki Kuroda is set to make what will likely be the final start of his Yankees career and possibly his MLB career. He has flirted with retirement in each of the last two offseasons and he’s already started doing it again this year. Sure, there is a chance he could return, but the feeling all season has been that the Yankees will move on from Kuroda now that he’s approaching 40 and his effectiveness is staring to wane.

It’s fitting Kuroda’s final start will be (understandably) overshadowed by Jeter’s farewell tonight. Just about everything he’s done in pinstripes has been overshadowed. The day the Yankees signed him was the also day the day they shipped Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Michael Pineda. When Kuroda re-signed with the team after that season, it was overshadowed by Andy Pettitte announcing he wanted to return for one more year. When he re-signed again this offseason, it was the same day Robinson Cano bolted for Seattle and Carlos Beltran became a Yankee.

Getting overshadowed is what Kuroda does, but the fact is he has been the team’s best and most reliable pitcher since first putting on pinstripes. There were always starters getting more attention — CC Sabathia in 2012, Ivan Nova in 2013, Masahiro Tanaka and Pineda in 2014 — but Kuroda was the stalwart in Joe Girardi‘s rotation. He missed one start in three years with the Yankees, and that was when they shut him down after being eliminated last September and sent out a spot starter in Game 162.

Kuroda was remarkably consistent these last three seasons — 2012-14 WHIP: 1.16, 1.16, 1.17; 2012-14 FIP: 3.86, 3.56, 3.58; 2012-14 K/BB: 3.27, 3.49, 3.91 — and he was truly one of the best pitchers in baseball, even with his late-season fades in 2012 and 2013. Here is where he ranks among his peers since joining New York (min. 300 IP, 131 qualifiers):

Innings Starts ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP K/BB bWAR fWAR
Kuroda 612 96 3.46 117 3.67 1.165 3.52 11.7 11.0
MLB Rank 12th t-8th 36th t-26th t-44th 22nd 29th t-13th 17th

Kuroda has been no worse than a top 15-20 starter these last three years when you look at the whole picture, his effectiveness on a rate basis and the bulk innings he provided. He went 7+ scoreless innings in 14 starts over the last three years, the fourth most in baseball behind Clayton Kershaw (20), Adam Wainwright (19), and Felix Hernandez (15). In his only two postseason starts with the Yankees, Kuroda allowed two runs in 8.1 innings (2012 ALDS) and three runs in 7.2 innings (2012 ALCS). He struck out 14 and walked one.

“The next outing, I may end my career there. Who knows?” said Kuroda to Chad Jennings following his start last Friday. “For now, I still have a job to do, which is to finish this season. I don’t really put too much time on (thinking about what’s next). It’s something I need to think about once I finish my responsibilities here.”

During his three years in New York, Kuroda was consistently solid, occasionally brilliant, and rarely bad. He was almost like the position player version of Hideki Matsui, fitting the team in a way that made it seem like he had been with the Yankees for years and years. Kuroda was obviously excellent on the field but he also carried himself with class and represented the team with dignity. Forgive the cliche, but he was a True Yankee in every way.

Kuroda’s tenure in pinstripes will likely come to an end tonight, overshadowed by Jeter’s farewell. That’s fine though. He’s been overshadowed and somewhat underappreciated ever since he arrived in New York. That’s his thing. Hopefully he gets a moment in the spotlight and a big ovation when he walks off the Yankee Stadium for what figures to be the final time tonight. Kuroda has been a great pitcher and a damn good Yankee these last three seasons, and he deserves a little send-off of his own.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Nova, Prado, Sabathia

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Got a bunch of injury updates to pass along prior to tonight’s series finale against the Red Sox. The updates come courtesy of Meredith Marakovits, Chad Jennings, Mark Feinsand, Jack Curry, Brendan Kuty, and Dan Martin.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) felt fine after playing long toss earlier this week. He is scheduled to throw off a mound in the bullpen on Saturday. “He does feel better. Our doctor said he basically just had arm fatigue, and that’s not abnormal for a pitcher. He does feel better. He played long toss the other day and felt good, so hopefully it’s pretty soon,” said Joe Girardi.
  • Ivan Nova (elbow) started a throwing program last week as part of his rehab from Tommy John surgery. “It was awesome to be throwing a baseball again. For me, I always worried about how I’m going to be. It feels a little weird, but once you start throwing, you’re more confident,” he said. Nova, who is right on schedule with his rehab, is making 25 throws at 60 feet every other day and will eventually start to stretch it out. He will spend the winter rehabbing in Tampa rather than going home to the Dominican Republic.
  • Martin Prado (hamstring) received some treatment yesterday and does not feel anything when he’s walking. He will test the hamstring with some baseball activities today — batting practice, running, fielding grounders, etc. — to see how it responds. “I think we made a little progress and we’ll see how it responds,” he said. “I just want it to be one or two days and not the rest of the season. I don’t feel it walking. I’m not going to play 50%. I have to be 100%.”
  • Carlos Beltran (elbow) will have the bone spur removed as soon as the season ends and the rehab is not expected to limit him at the start of Spring Training. He’ll need two months of rest before he can resume throwing and swinging a bat — Beltran will spend the winter living in New York so he can go for regular check-ups — which still gives him plenty of time to get ready for camp.
  • As scheduled, CC Sabathia (knee) received another stem cell injection last week. “It went well. I’ve got no crutches. I feel good,” he said. Sabathia is expected to begin throwing in another week or two.
  • This isn’t really an injury update, but Hiroki Kuroda admitted he skipped his usual between-starts bullpen session this week in an effort to avoid fatigue, something he’s done late in each of the last two years. He added that he’s thrown less between starts all season.

Hiroki Kuroda still has “not thought about” his plans for next season

Via Dan Martin: Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda has not yet thought about whether he will retire or continue playing after the season. He hasn’t made the decision until well into the offseason the last two years. “I have not thought about next year,” he said. “Since I’ve signed one-year contracts, I always wait until the completion of the season before I decide what to do.”

Kuroda, 39, has a 3.94 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 26 starts and 160 innings this year, so while hasn’t been the same guy we saw from 2012-13, he has been solid overall. I’ve been assuming this would be Kuroda’s last year in New York one way or the other, but I don’t think that’s completely set in stone. The Yankees need pitching, so if he wants to continue playing and is willing to sign for something like $10M to $12M instead of $16M, he could be back in 2015.

2014 Midseason Grades: The Rotation

Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple, straightforward, and totally subjective grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. We’ve already covered the catchers, infielders, and outfielders, so now let’s move on to the rotation.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Masahiro Tanaka — Grade A

I didn’t think it would be possible for Tanaka to meet, nevermind exceed expectations after the Yankees invested $175M in the 25-year-old right-hander this winter. A contract (and release fee) like that comes with ace-sized expectations and given everything he had to adjust to — five-day pitching schedule, new hitters, tougher parks, new culture, etc. — I didn’t think there was any chance he would pitch that well right away. I didn’t think he’d be bad, he’d be really good but there would be an adjustment period, right? How could there not be?

Well, there wasn’t. Tanaka showed up to Spring Training on the first day and looked like he had been wearing pinstripes for years. The transition was seamless, or at least he made it appear that way. He was all business from day one, embracing the five-day schedule and the new workout routines (remember all the running early in camp?). Tanaka was the position player of Hideki Matsui. The guy who fit in so well, so soon that it was like he was born to wear pinstripes.

Tanaka lived up to the hype on the field, of course. That’s most important. He has thrown 129.1 innings in 18 starts, and among the 45 AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, Tanaka ranks third with a 2.51 ERA, third with 4.1 bWAR,, fourth with a 3.7% walk rate, fourth with a 7.1 K/BB ratio, fifth with a 26.6% strikeout rate, sixth with 3.2 fWAR, tenth with a 3.07 FIP, and 20th with a 45.9% ground ball rate. The only negative in his game is the long ball; he’ll give up some dingers (1.04 HR/9 and 14.4 HR/FB%). It’s a minor nuisance. Other than that though, Tanaka was one of the five best starting pitchers in the league in the first half.

Unfortunately, Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament in what was scheduled to be his second to last start before the All-Star break. Three doctors recommended he rehab the injury rather than undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, so Tanaka received a platelet-rich plasma injection earlier this week and is currently resting before starting a throwing program. The expectation is that he will be able to return to the rotation later in the year, but surgery will remain a possibility if the rehab is less than perfect. It sucks but it is what it is. Tanaka managed to exceed expectations before the injury. What a stud.

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

CC Sabathia — Grade F

I was optimistic about Sabathia’s chances of rebounding this year, though I didn’t have much to base that on other than blind faith and Sabathia’s track record. I’m not even talking about getting back to being an ace. Just being a solid mid-rotation workhorse would have been plenty good enough for me. Instead, Sabathia gave the team a 5.28 ERA (4.79 FIP) in eight starts and 46 innings before going down with a degenerative knee condition. A stem cell procedure apparently did not work and now he’s facing the possibility of microfracture surgery, which could be career-threatening.

Rather than shake off the career worst 2013 season, Sabathia got worse and added in a serious injury this year. Not good. I mean, if you really want to squint your eyes and find a silver lining, know that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%) and walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) rates were outstanding. That … really doesn’t make me feel much better at all. Maybe an incomplete would be a more appropriate grade given the injury (which might have led to the poor performance), but eight starts is one-fourth of the season. That’s not insignificant.

Anyway, Sabathia’s knee injury is very serious and remember, he’s only 33. We’re not talking about some guy approaching 40 here. Sabathia is still relatively young and an ultra-competitive type who leaves everything on the field — remember when he started four games in 12 days for the Brewers on the eve of his free agency? You’re kidding yourself if you think he’s just going to walk away from the game because of the knee injury — and now there’s a chance he may never pitch again. Like, for real.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Hiroki Kuroda — Grade C

There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Kuroda coming into the season, specifically his age (39) and brutal finish to the 2013 season. The Yankees re-signed him though, and while he has not pitched as well as he did the last two years, Kuroda has given the team innings every fifth day and is the only Opening Day rotation member not to come down with an injury. His 4.10 ERA (3.91 FIP) can be split up into a 4.62 ERA (3.75 FIP) in his first eight starts and 48.2 innings and a 3.72 ERA (4.02 FIP) in his last eleven starts and 67.2 innings, if you choose.

With Tanaka and everyone else going down with injuries — for weeks too, these aren’t 15 days on the disabled list and you’re good to go type of injuries — the Yankees need Kuroda to remain that reliable innings eater in the second half. Actually, they need him to be better than that, which is a problem because of his late-season fades. The Yankees absolutely can not afford that this year, not if they want to contend. Kuroda is currently the staff ace by default and the team needs him to reverse his recent trends and be better in the second half than he was in the first.

Big Mike

Michael Pineda — Grade D

It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? Two years after the trade that brought him to New York, Pineda was finally healthy enough to help the Yankees, and he started the year by pitching to a 1.83 ERA (2.73 FIP) in four starts and 19.2 innings. He was an ace! An ace on a very strict pitch count (no more than 94 pitches or six full innings in his four starts), but an ace nonetheless. The Yankees were finally getting some kind of return on the trade and it was glorious.

Then it all came to a crashing halt in Fenway Park in late-April. Two starts after the internet caught him with a glob of pine tar on his hand, Pineda was caught with an even bigger glob of pine tar on his neck. Red Sox manager John Farrell did not let it slide this time. He alerted the umpires and Pineda was ejected and eventually suspended ten games. While serving the suspension, he suffered a back/shoulder muscle injury and has been sidelined since. He just started throwing off a mound last week (after the #obligatorysetback). Given his recent history, there’s no possible way the Yankees could count on Pineda to return to help the rotation in the second half. If he does come back, it’s a bonus. But man, those 19.2 innings were pretty awesome, weren’t they?

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Ivan Nova — incomplete

I went back and forth between giving Nova an F or an incomplete. He did make four starts this year, after all. Four terrible starts, with 40 base-runners and an 8.27 ERA (6.91 FIP) in 20.2 innings. But he also blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery in late-April. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming the elbow contributed to his poor performance and that he was never really healthy this year. I don’t know, an F just seems too harsh for a guy that barely pitched before his elbow ligament snapped. Maybe I’m being too kind.

The Yankees lost Nova for the season and that’s a pretty significant blow. Not just for this year either, the timing of the injury means he will start next season on the disabled list and the team won’t really know what to expect from him. This is an injury that impacts two seasons, not only one. This was supposed to be the year for Nova to build on his strong second half of 2013 and stop the up and down nonsense, establishing himself as a no-doubt big league starter. That won’t happen.

David Phelps — Grade B

Once the injuries started to strike, Phelps worked his way into the rotation and has remained there ever since. He’s pitched to a 3.94 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 89 total innings, including a 3.96 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 13 starts and 77.1 innings since moving into the rotation. The Yankees have also been able to count on Phelps for innings — he’s thrown at least five full innings in all 13 starts (even before he was fully stretched out) and at least six full innings eight times in his last ten starts. That’s been much-needed.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

There were some questions about Phelps and his ultimate role coming into the season — remember, he missed most of the second half last season with a pair of forearm strains — but things worked themselves out and he’s become one of the team’s three most reliable pitchers in the wake of the injuries. He’s been a godsend. You can’t ask anything more of a sixth starter. Now the Yankees need Phelps to keep it up in the second half. He’s in the rotation for good.

Chase Whitley — Grade C

It was definitely a tale of two first halves for Whitley. He came up following all the injuries and was outstanding in his first seven starts, posting a 2.56 ERA (2.75 FIP) in 28.2 innings. Considering he was a full-time reliever as recently as last July and the rotation was in total disarray, getting that kind of production out of Whitley was a minor miracle. The Yankees needed it desperately.

Then everything came crashing to a halt one night in Toronto last month, when the Blue Jays punished Whitley for eight runs in 3.1 innings. It wasn’t just a bump in the road either. He has a 9.43 ERA (6.14 FIP) in 21 innings since. (That includes two scoreless innings in relief.) After allowing eleven runs on 44 base-runners (one homer) in his first seven starts, Whitley has allowed 20 runs on 40 base-runners (five homers) in his last four starts. Those first seven starts were so good that I’m not going to go any lower than a C, especially since we’re talking about a guy who had never started regularly until this year. All things considered, Whitley’s been a plus even if he’ll only be a reliever going forward. He helped much more than I thought he would as a starter.

Vidal Nuno — Grade D

Nuno was actually the first guy to be pulled out of the bullpen and stuck in the rotation, but that had more to do with timing than anything. He was the only one rested and able to make a spot start because of a doubleheader in April, and he lined up perfectly to replace Nova after he blew out his elbow. That’s all. Nuno had a 5.42 ERA (5.18 FIP) in 78 total innings for the Yankees, including a 4.89 ERA (4.86 FIP) in 14 starts and 73.2 innings before being traded away two weeks ago. There were some good starts mixed in there and more than a few duds as well.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

Brandon McCarthy and Shane Greene — incomplete

These two both joined the rotation last week. I mean literally. Greene made his first career start last Monday and McCarthy made his first start in pinstripes on Wednesday. Throw in Greene’s second start last Saturday and they’ve combined to allow six run (three earned) in 20.1 innings. They also have a combined 57.1% ground ball rate, which is pretty awesome even if it is a super small sample. Greene’s mid-90s sinker and upper-80s slider make me think he has more rotation staying power than either Nuno or Whitley, but, either way, we’ll see plenty more of these two in the second half.

* * *

Any time a team loses four of its five Opening Day rotation members, including three within the first six weeks of the season, they’re going to be scrambling for pitching. No team has enough depth to go nine starters deep. The Yankees have been able to tread water thanks to Phelps and some timely outings from Whitley and Nuno, who have since been replaced by McCarthy and Greene. The team clearly needs another starter in the wake of Tanaka’s injury and, frankly, they could have used another starter before that. This is a patchwork staff held together by Kuroda, Phelps, and McCarthy at the moment, and there’s no telling how much longer the duct tape will hold.