How cool is this news? Most people, including myself, assumed Kuroda would be returning to pitch in his native Japan in 2011. But now, with the return of starter Ted Lilly, the Dodgers have a formidable starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Lilly and Kuroda. The fifth starter will most likely come from within the Dodgers system, but GM Ned Colletti is also well-known for bringing in a wide selection of veteran arms to Spring Training as non-roster invitees as he tries to capture magic in a bottle.
Other than his numbers (11-13 with a 3.39 ERA over 196 1/3 innings), one of the things that really excites me about the Kuroda deal is that it’s only for one year. At 35 and arguably one of the best free agent pitchers available in a limited market, Kuroda could have easily obtained a two or possibly three-year deal from a major league club. But it was his strong comfort level with the Dodgers organization and his desire to eventually to Japan to pitch that led him to sign a one-year deal with LA. For that, all Dodger fans should be very thankful, as a multi-year contract brings a lot of obvious risk for a pitcher who turns 36 in February.
It’s also worth noting that $4 million of Kuroda’s salary (technically this portion is considered a signing bonus) is deferred to 2012 and 2013. I really don’t see this as a problem…this is the model the Dodgers have chosen to use when paying players, and if it can be managed in a fiscally responsible way so as to field the most competitive team now while also not bankrupting the team in the future, then I’m fine with it. Jon Weisman has some additional thoughts on the Dodgers’ salary defferment program that are worth checking out.
“As we continue our commitment to winning, Hiroki Kuroda will play a significant role in our rotation, which is a very important part of our club,” said Colletti in a Dodgers press release. “He has had success in the regular season as well as the postseason and we look forward to having him back in a Dodger uniform in 2011. With four starters returning from last year, we feel very good about our rotation and we will continue to look for ways to improve the staff.”
Now that the starting rotation is set, Colletti has to turn his attention to the noticeable power gap on this team. While Dodger fans are definitely excited about the Kuroda and Lilly signings, they’re looking for Colletti & Co. to bring in a big bat, either in left field (the logical destination), first base (as a potential replacement for James Loney) or in a platoon option at third base with Casey Blake. Kemp and Ethier are still developing as power hitters, and we all saw how much better Ethier was when he was protected by Manny Ramirez’s bat in late-2008 and 2009.
Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2010