How Would Hiroki Kuroda Have Fit Back Into Dodgers’ Rotation?

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne caught up with Ned Colletti yesterday, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, Colletti said that the Dodgers were essentially done for the winter because they’re at their payroll limit. We’ve all been operating under that assumption for a while, because even if there was money, there’s little flexibility in the current roster to add anyone else.

That said, this tidbit caught my eye…

Colletti offered a clue to how the team is approaching this season by noting that he had been talking to free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda‘s agents up until a few days ago about “other ways to figure this out” because “we used the money we would’ve had for him and had to spread it out some.”

Colletti wouldn’t specify what options were discussed. But the only options that would’ve worked under those parameters essentially would be a back-loaded, two-year deal, or something that wouldn’t have impacted the team’s Opening Day payroll so deeply.

“We’ve stayed in it, but I think at this point in time we’ve probably exhausted the different choices,” Colletti said. “I think he’s going to end with an American League club, from what I can gather.

Fascinating, isn’t it? We’d closed the book on Kuroda as a Dodger weeks ago, right after Colletti signed Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang to join a rotation that already featured Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Ted Lilly. Yet according to this, Colletti was still brainstorming ways to get Kuroda back in town as recently as “a few days ago”. (It was also reported yesterday that Kuroda does not plan to return to Japan in 2012, by the way.)

By all indications, the money was never going to work out – Kuroda’s looking for about $13-$14m next year – but what if it had? What if Kuroda decided that after flirting with other clubs, he really wasn’t ready to leave the Dodgers? What if his agent and Colletti found some very creative ways to shift payroll? That would have put the Dodgers in a very interesting situation in which they had six starters and few options to move one.

You don’t even consider moving Kershaw, of course, and Lilly has a no-trade clause through the end of 2012. As newly-signed free agents, Capuano & Harang can’t be dealt yet either. That would have left only Billingsley as even a possibility, but even that seems unlikely; for all the frustrations we’ve had with him, he’s earning his salary and is still only entering his age-27 season. Had they moved him, that would have left four starters behind Kershaw who would be 34 or older this year, and opened up a big hole for 2013 and ’14.

While Colletti did collect six starters last season, picking up both Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla after re-signing Kuroda and Lilly, that situation was slightly different because Padilla was well-suited to slide into the bullpen, where I firmly believe he would have been excellent if he hadn’t been injured. None of the current fivesome make sense to shift into relief, and that would have left the Dodgers in a very intriguing situation.

I have to admit, I don’t really know what the solution would have been, and at this point, it’s likely not something we’ll ever know. Still, it’s immensely interesting to consider.

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  1. [...] filled – despite reports that Colletti was reportedly in contact with Kuroda’s agent as recently as last week. It could very well have been merely an issue of timing, not an issue of “loyalty”, and [...]