Pitchers Break, But You Still Need Them: Hiroki Kuroda

October 31, 2012 at 9:02 am | Posted in Hiroki Kuroda | Leave a comment

Alex Rodriguez isn’t playing third base in this picture from Kowarski, so I assume Kuroda did well that night.

Continuing the look at potential starting pitchers that we started yesterday with Zack Greinke… old friend Hiroki Kuroda is a free agent and is coming off a very good year with the Yankees, one in which he narrowly topped CC Sabathia in ERA, 3.32 to 3.38. Ken Gurnick reports that the Dodgers could express interest in bringing Kuroda back, and while the report is oddly thin – that’s literally it, it’s just “could emerge as a top free-agent target of the club,” not even suggesting that there’s actually been any movement other than just an idea Gurnick has – we know the Dodgers need starting pitching, so it’s not hard to see it making sense.

There’s a lot to like about Kuroda, of course. He’s been one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball over the last several years, with FIP scores between 3.26 – 3.86 in each of his five seasons, and he’s proven himself durable, avoiding the disabled list in each of the last three seasons. When he left the Dodgers for the Yankees last winter, there were concerns about how he’d do in the AL East and in the comical Yankee Stadium, but he topped the AL East champions in starts, innings pitched, & ERA, setting career highs in the first two.

Kuroda’s also a fan favorite, someone who nobody wanted to see leave. (Even when we all wanted him to accept a trade in 2011, it wasn’t because anyone really wanted him gone, it was because the Dodgers were out of the hunt and no one knew if Kuroda would return to LA or go to Japan after the season.) When he did leave, it again wasn’t because he wasn’t wanted, it’s because Ned Colletti had very limited funds and decided to put the money towards two pitchers (Chris Capuano & Aaron Harang) rather than one. We know that he can pitch in big markets and particularly Dodger Stadium, and we know that there’s little to worry about him as far as acclimating to the city or the team. As a fan, I’d love to see Kuroda in blue once more, and according to this report, he’s willing to accept another one-year deal.

And yet… I’m going to take an unpopular position and say that I’m not so sure about this. Kuroda’s a fine pitcher, and the Dodgers deserve endless kudos for signing him when he was a relatively unknown quantity prior to 2008. But while a 3.86 FIP in 2012 is nice, it’s also the highest of his career, and doesn’t exactly shout “difference-maker”. It’s slightly better than Edwin Jackson, slightly worse than Jonathon Niese, and similar to Josh Beckett‘s performance as a Dodger; hell, Capuano was only slightly behind at 3.95, and that includes his second-half swoon.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, because every team needs pitchers like that. But what the Dodgers really need is someone to pair with Clayton Kershaw, and I don’t really see Kuroda as that guy. In a league where the top teams can boast groupings like Matt Cain / Madison Bumgarner or Stephen Strasburg / Gio Gonzalez  or Roy Halladay / Cliff Lee / Cole Hamels, Kuroda as your #2 just doesn’t seem like quite enough.

You could argue that if the Dodgers get Greinke, then Kuroda would make for a fantastic #3, or even #4 if Chad Billingsley is healthy, and that’s a fair case to make. But even then, there’s concerns. While I think he’s still got life in his arm, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’ll be 38 in February and that the price to obtain him would be sky-high for a pitcher of that age. Think about it: he just came off a one-year, $10m contract with the Yankees, and after the way he pitched for them, he’s likely to command a raise. In fact, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Yankees offer him a qualifying contract of $13.3m. If he accepts it, he’s off the market. If he doesn’t, then not only could you see him arguing that 1/$14m is what he’s worth, but the Dodgers would have to give up their 2013 first round pick for signing a qualified free agent.

~$14m for a 38-year-old pitcher is scary, though you could somehow argue that dollars don’t matter for the new Dodgers. Yet with the way they’ve traded off the farm system recently, draft picks are worth their weight in gold. Much as I love Kuroda, giving that much money and losing a draft pick for a pitcher of his age just doesn’t seem like the best use of resources.

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