Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda agreed to terms Tuesday with the New York Yankees, for whom he won 16 regular-season games, made two effective postseason starts and now fits their organizational plan in so many ways.
Intent on limiting payroll in 2014, the Yankees signed Kuroda, 37, for one season at $15 million. He’ll pitch in the rotation with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and, the Yankees hope, Andy Pettitte. And the club will clear that salary in time for the coming luxury tax, which will penalize payrolls greater than $189 million the season after next.
The club continues to negotiate for the return of closer Mariano Rivera and awaits the decision of Pettitte, who will return to the Yankees or retire. Both would come with one-year contracts, furthering the new budgetary cause.
Kuroda reportedly would like to finish his career in Japan, yet opted for the Yankees for one more year. While not generally considered the Yankees’ ace in 2012, he did lead the staff in starts, innings, complete games, shutouts and ERA, and therefore will be among the team’s most important acquisitions this winter. Sabathia had a bone spur removed from his left elbow in late October, shortly after the Yankees were swept by the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. He is expected to be ready by spring training.
The Los Angeles clubs – Dodgers and Angels – both are short on starters and both made bids to obtain Kuroda. The Dodgers, for whom Kuroda pitched for four seasons, offered at least $15 million for him to return. Over the weekend, however, both teams seemed resigned to losing Kuroda to the Yankees.
That merely heightens what should be an enthusiastic bidding war for Zack Greinke, the best free-agent pitcher on the market. The Texas Rangers also are expected to contend for Greinke.
The Angels are most vulnerable. From their 2012 rotation, they traded Ervin Santana to Kansas City and declined to exercise an option year for Dan Haren. Those decisions leave them with a rotation of Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and some reasonable questions about what might follow. After Greinke, they will have to consider other free agents, among them Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson and Ryan Dempster.
Likewise, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, but the health of Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are concerns. They are in negotiations with Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-Jin, and have been in regular contact with the agents for Greinke and Sanchez.
The simpler solution would have been Kuroda, who apparently still owns a home in the Los Angeles area and is well regarded in the Dodgers clubhouse. His signing with the Yankees thwarted that plan, however, and so the Dodgers, like the Angels, continue to look elsewhere in a very competitive market.
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