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:
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?
Qualifying offer for Kuroda?