Rotation Options: Hiroki Kuroda
MLBTR released their top 50 free agents for the 2010/2011 off-season, which always includes predictions as to where the players will go. Those predictions are mostly based on team needs, and more or less are educated guesses, with most of them not even being based on rumors. I add that disclaimer because the number 11 ranked free agent, Hiroki Kuroda, is listed as going to the Pirates. Again, it’s just a guess, and doesn’t mean the Pirates are even pursuing Kuroda, but it provides a perfect opportunity to review how Kuroda could help the rotation.
MLBTR looked at Kuroda’s free agent stock, and predicted that he could get a deal like Randy Wolf received last year, which was a 3 year/$29.75 M deal. However, they suggest Kuroda could be had by a team willing to give him two years in their top 50 rankings. Either way, it seems that Kuroda will likely cost around $10 M a year, which is down from his 3 year/$35.3 M contract he had with the Dodgers.
Kuroda ranks high on my personal rankings, falling behind Cliff Lee, Jorge de la Rosa, and Javier Vazquez. In the last three years he has combined for a 3.60 ERA in 497 innings, with a 6.6 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 ratio. He has dealt with some injury issues, highlighted by an oblique strain that limited him to 117.1 innings in 2009. However, he made 31 starts in each of the 2008 and 2010 seasons, so he’s not an injury risk like a Rich Harden or Erik Bedard.
Kuroda keeps his walk rate low, and gets a good amount of strikeouts. He’s also a ground ball pitcher, with a career 50.8% ground ball ratio, including a 51.1% ratio in 2010. He would definitely be an upgrade to the Pirates’ rotation, and based on 2010 performance, would be the number two starter in the rotation, behind James McDonald. The one concern with him is age. He will be 36 years old next year, and prior to pitching 497 innings in the last three years, he pitched 1700 innings in Japan.
Kuroda would be an upgrade to the rotation, but there’s no guarantee he doesn’t see a decline over the next 2-3 years. The Pirates may not need him for that entire time frame, as they have options like Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson, and Brad Lincoln in the minors, as Ross Ohlendorf and James McDonald in the rotation for the next several years. An ideal contract for Kuroda would be a two year deal with an option for 2013, which works to provide security, should the Pirates still have a pitching need after the 2012 season, and minimizes the chance that Kuroda sees a drop in production due to his age and career workload.