Earlier Tuesday, there was a rumor floating around Twitter that B.J. Upton had signed a long-term contract with the Phillies. That turned out to be fake, or alternatively sent to the present from the presently unknowable future. There was also a rumor floating around Twitter that Hiroki Kuroda had signed a short-term contract with the Yankees. That turned out to be real, as Kuroda has re-upped for a year and $15 million, with another near-million in incentives.
Last January, Kuroda signed with the Yankees for a year and $10 million. He pitched well, and after the season the Yankees extended to him one of those qualifying offers worth $13.3 million. Kuroda declined it, but there was some thought that he could accept it, suggesting that the terms weren’t far off from something he’d find agreeable. Indeed, the Yankees have re-signed Kuroda for the qualifying offer, and just a little more. Or a lot more, depending on how you feel about a couple million dollars.
What’s funny here is something out of a recent report, from ESPN Los Angeles:
Previously, teams have been under the impression that Kuroda would either re-sign with the New York Yankees or return to his native Japan to finish his career. But Kuroda has told friends that his first preference is to pitch in Southern California, where his two daughters are attending elementary school.
I’m not saying that information was wrong, and Kuroda did pitch for a while for the Dodgers, after all, but within days the Dodgers and Angels were reportedly out of it despite being in the market for quality starters, and the Yankees got Kuroda signed to a deal those teams could’ve afforded. Kuroda clearly took a liking to New York, and New York clearly took a liking to Kuroda back.
It works out perfectly for the Yankees, really. For one thing, Kuroda is good, so the Yankees have kept a good starting pitcher. For another thing, pitchers are risky, but pitchers are least risky on one-year contracts. Kuroda reportedly has a desire to return to Japan later in his career when he still has something left, and he turns 38 in February. Kuroda was only looking for something short-term, making this an easier agreement to reach. And another benefit for the Yankees of the one-year contract is that they’re trying to get under the luxury-tax threshold in 2014. Not two weeks ago, Wendy Thurm went into some detail on the matter. By signing Kuroda through 2013 only, the Yankees have kept their 2014 commitments down, meaning their goal remains perfectly achievable. It’s still weird to see the Yankees being concerned about money, but they are, and still Kuroda fits well into their plan.
This isn’t the end of it for the Yankees. They’d still like to get Andy Pettitte to return, which would give them a solid rotation, even assuming Michael Pineda doesn’t pitch. Pettitte might be more likely to return now, with Kuroda returning before him. He also might not, but leaving Pettitte aside for the moment, re-signing Kuroda makes the Yankees’ rotation at present look a lot more stable behind CC Sabathia. Kuroda’s long been a good pitcher, he was a good pitcher in 2012, and the best indicator of the next season’s performance is the most recent season performance.
People weren’t quite sure how Kuroda would adjust to the American League after years with the Dodgers. That’s always a valid concern, but Kuroda adjusted by basically being exactly himself. He didn’t change and he didn’t get any worse. We look at ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-:
With Dodgers: 87/91/89
With Yankees: 79/91/89
That’s startling. You’re startled. There might’ve been some adjustment period. As a Dodger, Kuroda threw 64-percent strikes. Through his first nine starts with the Yankees, Kuroda threw 61-percent strikes. But the rest of the way, he threw 64-percent strikes, with an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Kuroda was tremendous in two starts in the playoffs, to boot. To whatever extent Kuroda had to adjust to the AL, ultimately he didn’t have any problem. His stuff was the same, and his results were the same, and he never got hurt.
At his age, Kuroda could start to come apart, but there aren’t any indicators, aside from that number. All the lights in 2012 were green. He was a terrific starting pitcher, and he projects to be a terrific starting pitcher. At $15 million, it’s not like the Yankees are getting an impossible bargain, but Kuroda was worth more than that last year, and of course Yankees money isn’t like everybody else’s money. They can afford this and they’re presumably happy to afford this. The Yankees have signed a good starting pitcher to a contract while effectively minimizing risk in advance of what they intend to be another competitive season. That’s how you do it. This is an easy one to analyze.