Big League Stew - MLB

The winter pitching market continued to work around the existing free agents Saturday, when the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a three-year contract worth $35.3 million.

Kuroda, whom the Dodgers followed for well more than a year with the Hiroshima Carp, will be third or fourth in a rotation with Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Jason Schmidt or Esteban Loaiza.

Pitching in a hitters' park for mostly poor teams, Kuroda impressed the Dodgers with an above-average fastball, breaking ball and straight changeup, along with a competitive streak. Four scouts from the Dodgers saw Kuroda pitch last season, and the consensus was he was not as good as Daisuke Matsuzaka but still would be very effective in the major leagues. The Red Sox spent more than $100 million on Matsuzaka, including the posting fee.

General manager Ned Colletti appears intent on upgrading the Dodgers' bullpen and might consider a move for a third baseman, but the heavy lifting could be over in an offseason that has seen him sign Andruw Jones and now Kuroda while holding onto young, middle-of-the-order hitters Matt Kemp and James Loney.

The Dodgers have minimal interest in available third basemen Brandon Inge and Scott Rolen. Barring a trade, they'll leave third base to Andy LaRoche and Nomar Garciaparra.

Meanwhile, trade talks revolving around Johan Santana, Erik Bedard, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton have dominated the market. Haren went to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday, and it appears the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox again are vying for Santana.

That still leaves the likes of Kyle Lohse, Carlos Silva, Livan Hernandez and Jason Jennings, considered the best of the free agents. Lohse is considering offers from the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, both of which could go to four years.

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