Arbitration Decision: Hiroki Kuroda

Let me preface this right at the top by saying, “I want Hiroki Kuroda back”. Kuroda’s been stellar in his three years as a Dodger, despite suffering through a multitude of injuries and a scary liner to the head. 15 times he’s pitched at least seven innings without allowing more than one earned run; this season he’s finally managed to avoid the disabled list, and he’s going to surpass 200 innings and set career highs in nearly every category. He’s currently tied for the 7th-lowest OBP against in Los Angeles Dodger history, among those with as many innings as he’s thrown, and he’s been well worth the 3/$35.3m deal he signed before the 2008 season. If you can sign him to a two- or three-year deal, hopefully gaining a hometown discount, then I’m totally on board with that.

So you’d think, after I said to offer Ted Lilly arbitration, that making the same offer to the superior Kuroda would be a no-brainer. Kuroda’s a more effective pitcher, and he’s had more success as a Dodger. Easy, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Though I have no doubt that Kuroda could go hit the market and get a big deal in free agency, I’m more worried that he’d actually accept the offer than I am that Lilly would. Kuroda will be 36 in February, and after uprooting his family from Japan three years ago, he may not want to leave the relative comfort of Los Angeles to ask them to adapt to somewhere new. Besides, he’s refused to comment on his future after this season, and the rumors about him possibly returning to Japan just won’t go away. If he’s unwilling to commit to more than than another year or two in America, then the lure of a long-term deal wouldn’t hold much sway for him – and there’s nowhere he could get a bigger salary for 2011 than he could by accepting arbitration from the Dodgers.

Kuroda is making $15.4m in 2010, and he’s been outstanding. If he accepted an offer of arbitration, he’d get $16m at the least, and possibly more. While you’d like to think that the team could negotiate a two-year deal to lessen that 2011 hit, if he only wants to commit for one year, then the team has just about no leverage to avoid that payment. There’s not a whole lot of teams who can afford that kind of cash for one season of a pitcher, and the Dodgers certainly aren’t among them. Besides, while I love Kuroda, that’s a lot of dough to drop on a 36-year-old with one healthy season out of three, particularly on a club with zero starting depth.

In a vacuum, there’s no doubt at all that Hiroki Kuroda is better than Ted Lilly, and it’s no secret which one I’d prefer to see in Dodger blue next season. Not offering Kuroda arbitration doesn’t preclude that, but extending that offer is just far too risky. You just can’t offer them both arbitration, because if they each accepted the results would be disastrous (who are kidding, it’s the Dodgers, so they won’t offer either, but indulge me), so I have to choose the one that is less likely to accept – and would cost less if he did.

Verdict: don’t offer arbitration, but do try to re-sign him.

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  1. [...] As detailed here. I love Kuroda, and he could command a big free-agent contract, but the danger that he’ll want to commit to only one more year of American baseball and end up with a $16m+ arbitration judgement is far too risky, especially for an older pitcher with an injury history. $73.5m+ $0m = $73.5m [...]

  2. [...] a free agent (I mistakenly said he was arbitration-eligible; he’s not, though I wouldn’t have offered anyway) and he’ll be 36 by the time [...]