Jobu gives us his thoughts on Hiroki Kuroda, and whether or not he’ll be a Yankee next season.
As we continue to look at possible in house free agents for the upcoming 2014 off-season, we have to ask ourselves the same question about every potential free agent. Are we bringing him back, or letting him go? The other day we tackled by far the toughest decision the Yankees brass has to make in Robinson Canó. Today, we’re going to take a look at the guy who basically carried the pitching staff through mid-summer, Hiroki Kuroda. Let’s talk about the japanese right-hander, shall we?
There was a period of time last season that saw Kuroda rise to being just about the best pitcher in the American League. With CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes struggling throughout the season, and Andy Pettitte going through a mid-summer swoon, the Yankees relied heavily on Kuroda to get them through the middle months of the season. He responded incredibly well. After his August 12 start against the Angels, Kuroda sat at 11-7 with a 2.33 ERA. The 11 wins were almost a crime, as he had been plagued by complete lack of offensive support for the first four-and-a-half months of the season. He could easily have had 15 or 16 wins at that point, had the Yankees not employed a bunch of zombies in the lineup.
During that stretch, Kuroda was so good, that it seemed like the $15MM they were paying him was a complete bargain, especially considering that Sabathia, who made $23MM last season, was pitching so terribly. There was talk that, if the Yankees could pull themselves back into the divisional race, Kuroda might be a viable candidate for the Cy Young award. He was that damn good. Bringing back that Kuroda is the no-brainer.
After August 12, it was like someone turned a switch on Kuroda. To steal a line from Spaceballs, it’s like he had gone from suck to blow. For the first four-and-a-half months of the season, he breathed such life into Yankees fans, only to completely decompose the last six weeks of the season. Over his last eight starts of the season, Hiroki went 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA. He was getting blown out by terrible teams like the White Sox and Blue Jays. It was downright ugly. The late summer swoon left him with an 11-13 record, although his 3.31 final ERA is nothing to scoff at. Overall, it was actually 0.01 lower than his ERA in 2012.
It was clear that he ran out of gas after mid-August, which raises the question: at 38 years of age, was that tank emptying for the season, or for good? He’ll be 39 next year. Does he have anything left?
What Would Jobu do?
Despite the terrible job he did in late August and September, I think the tough decision is not whether or not to bring him back into the fold in 2014. Yes, he was very bad for a solid period of time, but he had a similar drop in performance towards the end of 2012. I don’t mind if runs out of gas in September if he’s going to continue pitching like an ace from April to August. When he’s on, Kuroda is absolutely brilliant, and there’s no real reason to believe that he won’t bounce back once he’s refreshed in April.
He’s also among the most durable starters in baseball, and he’s pretty much made every start since 2010, and only had one major injury in his entire six year big league career. If you can pencil someone in for 30-33 mostly quality starts every season, then you’d be dumb not to bring him back. I think the main thing the Yankees should be worried about is whether or not Kuroda wants to come back. If he does, then they have to figure out an appropriate amount to pay him.
I don’t think it’s ridiculous to assume Kuroda’s looking for a one year deal. He’s been going for one year deals the last couple of seasons, and has talked about retiring or returning to Japan the last couple of seasons. He’s probably looking to sign very short-term commitments until he decides to call it a career. The qualifying offer for free agents this year is $14.1MM. There’s no reason for the Yankees to not extend this offer Kuroda’s way. If he accepts it, they get their ace back for another season, and save some money on him to boot (he made $15MM in 2013). If he declines the offer, it probably won’t take much more than the $15MM he made last year. After all, he is one year older and coming off of a rough stretch to end the season. If Kuroda decides to sign with another contender, then the Yankees will get a draft pick.
I think Kuroda has enjoyed his time in New York and, if they can field a competitive team around him, he’ll end up coming back on a one year deal of some kind. I think that’s the best thing for both parties, especially for the Yankees. He could slot in the rotation somewhere around Sabathia, Pineda, Nova and maybe even Masahiro Tanaka… sounds good to me, right?
Featured image courtesy of: (Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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