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.

Fishing At the Bottom of the Starting Pitching Market

As the days go by, we’re hearing little about Hiroki Kuroda’s plan for 2012, and the longer we go, the less likely it seems that he’ll return to the Dodgers. By comparison, last year his one-year deal to return was all but finalized by November 13. Of course, what we’ve been hearing lately is that the delay this time around is less about whether Kuroda wants to come back than it is about whether the Dodgers can even afford to pay him, as Bill Shaikin painfully pointed out yesterday:

#Dodgers parent company reports $9.9 million in “bankruptcy-related expenses” thru Oct 31. Dodgers might not have $ to bring Kuroda back.

Consider that another fun parting gift from Frank McCourt, though it’s hard to argue that the millions foolishly committed to Juan Rivera and others couldn’t have been better allocated by Ned Colletti as well.

If Kuroda doesn’t return, the Dodgers simply can’t go into the season with Dana Eveland and Nathan Eovaldi as their 4th and 5th starters (I’d prefer that neither of them be in the rotation, though that may be unavoidable), and that means that they’ll need to dip into the shallow end of the veteran free agent pool, where they’ve already been linked to Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, and Jeff Francis.

A word of warning: this isn’t going to be pretty. It never is when you’re trying to buy low on the open market.

RHP Aaron Harang, 34

Harang was once a solid workhorse for the Reds, tossing at least 211 innings for three seasons in a row until his career was derailed in 2008 in large part due to Dusty Baker forcing him into a relief appearance and making him throw 239 pitches in an eight-day span. After a feeble end to his Cincinnati career, he entered the starting pitcher equivalent of the Betty Ford Clinic – Petco Park – and voila! A superficially pretty 14-7, 3.64 record for the Padres… despite having basically identical K/9 and BB/9 rates as he did in his final season with the Reds, where he went 6-7, 5.32. Amazing what pitching in San Diego will do for a flyball-prone pitcher, isn’t it? (Shockingly, his home/road splits are large.)

Harang declined his half of a $5m player option to return to his hometown Padres in 2012, so it seems clear he’s not looking for a minimum-salary deal. (Because, you know, wins!) That said, watch him go to the Giants and go 16-8, 3.78 pitching in that ballpark.

LHP Chris Capuano, 33

You want to win a bar bet this offseason? Ask people which starting pitcher had the single most effective start of 2011, according to “Game Score”. It’s not Justin Verlander, and it’s not Clayton Kershaw; it was Capuano, who struck out 13 Braves without a walk in tossing a two-hit shutout on August 26. The two-time Tommy John survivor came back from missing all of 2008 and 2009 (and half of 2010) to throw 186 decent innings for the Mets, as the advanced stats (3.67 SIERA, 4.04 FIP) belied his 4.55 ERA. For the $1.5m contract he signed (which ended up being about $3.9m with the incentives he reached), he provided a solid and unexpected value for New York, striking out three times as many as he walked – even briefly becoming a target of a bizarre trade rumor in late September as the Red Sox desperately tried to stave off their collapse.

But there’s some warning signs here. In addition to obvious concerns about his durability – and don’t ignore that whenever he went beyond five innings last year, his ERA was north of 8 – Capuano has had a career-long issue with keeping the ball in the yard, topping out at a Lilly-esque 1.31 HR/9 last year. And when I say “Lilly-esque”, I mean, his 1.31 is exactly the same as Ted Lilly allowed, and we laughed at Lilly all year long. The cozy dimensions of CitiField helped him hide that somewhat, as he allowed seven fewer dingers at home despite pitching 17 more innings there, fueling some brutal home/road splits.

Capuano reportedly wants a two-year deal, which the Mets are seemingly unwilling to do; in a world where a similar soft-tossing lefty like Bruce Chen can pick up a two-year deal for at least $9m, it’s probably not out of the question that he’ll get it.

LHP Jeff Francis, 31

Francis has had an interesting career in the sense that while he was once massively overrated due to his 17-9 record with Colorado in 2007, he’s now somewhat underrated due to going 6-16 for the Royals in 2011. (Fun fact #1: when he won 17 games, his FIP was 4.19. When he lost 16, it was 4.10. Yay, wins!) Francis missed all of 2009 and part of 2010 due to injury, and while he was once routinely in the 86-88 MPH range, he averaged only 84.7 MPH on his fastball last year.

Predictably, he doesn’t strike anyone out – just 91 in 183 IP – and if you’re going to survive like that, you need to be sure you’re limiting the longball and keeping walks to a minimum. That’s exactly how he succeeded, allowing just 1.9 BB/9 and 0.9 HR/9 with the Royals in 2011. In theory, the Dodgers have built a solid defensive infield, which could benefit Francis since he’s not generating a lot of outs on his own. Of course, Francis operates with such little room for error that if he loses even a little of his control the results could be disastrous. Or he could be Jamie Moyer, pitching for another 20 years. Soft-tossing lefties are always so fun to try to predict. (Fun fact #2: on Baseball Reference’s Similarity Score list, Francis’ #3 comparable is Capuano. #8 is old friend Mark Hendrickson.)

LHP Paul Maholm, 30

The Dodgers haven’t been linked to Maholm, but he’s worth throwing out there now that he’s a free agent since the Pirates declined his $9.75m 2012 option. Like most of these other guys, he’s a soft-tossing lefty who doesn’t strike out very many and has decent control, but he’s been more successful because he’s great at keeping the ball in the park, averaging just 0.8 HR/9 over his career. As a groundballer, he’d do well in front of a good infield defense, though as a relatively durable starter in a winter devoid of pitching depth, he’s probably in line for a somewhat overpriced multiple-year deal. If the Dodgers can’t afford Kuroda, they’re probably not going to be paying Maholm either, since he’s going to be attractive to whomever loses out on the C.J. Wilson sweepstakes.

RHP Aaron Cook, 33

Cook, like Maholm, has not been mentioned in any reports linking him to the Dodgers that I’ve seen, and he’s now on the market after Colorado declined his $11m option. Cook is Colorado’s all-time wins leader, though in recent years he’s been sidetracked by a litany of injuries, including “a sprained toe, displaced right fibula fracture, a broken ring finger, and shoulder inflammation,” bottoming out by going 3-10 with a 6.03 ERA for the Rockies last year.

Or so it would seem, anyway. Cook’s 4.54 FIP last year isn’t all that far off from what it was during his productive years, as he was hurt by a BABIP of .345 that was far above what he’s ever seen before. When he’s right, he’s even more of an extreme groundball type that Maholm, though it remains to be seen if all of the injuries have robbed him of the ability to be even average.

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There are, of course, plenty of other guys out there, from guys the Dodgers won’t be in on (Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Javier Vazquez), to injury-riddled former stars (Erik Bedard, Rich Harden) to even more fungible back-end types (Zach Duke, Doug Davis, Jason Marquis, Bartolo Colon, Joel Pineiro, who somehow struck out only 3.8/9 last year).

If Kuroda doesn’t return, it seems certain that the Dodgers end up with at least one of these retreads. (Personally, I’d prefer Kuroda and one, allowing Eveland/Eovaldi to be backups, but that doesn’t sound likely.) So which? In terms of talent in the five that we looked at, I’d probably go Maholm / Capuano / Francis / Harang / Cook. Yet the Dodgers likely aren’t going to be able to afford Maholm, and the thought of guaranteeing Capuano two years to give up dingers terrifies me. So while I can’t believe I’m actually typing these words, if this is the best the Dodgers can do… I might have to go with Jeff Francis. He’s probably undervalued, coming off a 6-16 record, he made only $2m last year so he can’t be expecting a huge raise, and I love pitchers who don’t walk anyone. (I’d also take Cook on an NRI or minimum-salary lottery ticket.)

Now watch Colletti go out and get Francis, but for $18m guaranteed.

Expect The Arbitration Deadline to Pass Quietly Today

Tonight at midnight eastern represents the deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to free agents who are no longer under team control. You might remember this story from such times as “why would the Dodgers pass up the likelihood of a first round draft pick for Randy Wolf and/or Orlando Hudson out of fear they might accept a one-year deal?”  There’s no such drama likely to happen this year, simply because of the circumstances involved.

When the offseason started, the Dodgers had ten free agents:

…though that has already dwindled to seven, as Rivera has returned and Carroll & Barajas have signed elsewhere. Only Barajas & Kuroda are ranked free agents, in theory making the Dodgers eligible to receive draft pick compensation for their losses if they were offered arbitration, but it’s sort of irrelevant; the terms of Kuroda’s contract state that he cannot be offered arbitration, and Barajas already signed with Pittsburgh earlier this month, gaining the Dodgers an extra draft pick. While the new CBA substantially changes most of these rules, most of that starts next winter; this winter is something of a transitional period, where several Type A free agents have had that status removed, none of whom are relevant to the Dodgers anyway.

Otherwise, there’s no reason to offer salary arbitration to anyone, since there would be no draft compensation and not a single one of the non-Kuroda six is completely assured of even picking up a major-league deal in 2012, though it’s likely that someone will be suckered in by Miles or MacDougal. (Probably the Dodgers, right? Right?)

What Do the Dodgers Have Left?


The Dodgers certainly aren’t taking their time this offseason, are they? After getting things started quickly by bringing back Juan Rivera, they’ve now snapped up Mark Ellis, have agreed in principle to an extension for Matt Kemp, and are getting close to adding catcher Matt Treanor. Yet they’re not done yet, because they still need at least one starting pitcher (preferably two), one more bench bat, and Ned Colletti’s yearly “oh god, my bullpen is too young and talented” veteran reliever.

But as Dylan Hernandez points out today, the 2012 payroll could be less than it was in 2011. So it’s fair to ask – after the recent spending spree, how much is left? When I did my 2012 plan a few weeks ago (one which looks more outdated by the day), I noted that the 2011 club had spent about $98m on player salaries and an additional $17m or so on “dead money”, or approximately $115m total. Before they had done anything this winter, they already had $99m committed for 2012, broken down by category, and assuming that James Loney is tendered but Hong-Chih Kuo is not:

2012 commitments as of 11/1/11

$22m of dead money - Manny Ramirez ($8m), Juan Pierre ($3m), Andruw Jones ($3.375m), Rafael Furcal ($3m), Hiroki Kuroda ($2m), Casey Blake ($1.25m), Jon Garland ($1.5m)

$33m of committed moneyTed Lilly ($12m), Chad Billingsley ($9m), Juan Uribe ($8m), Matt Guerrier ($4.75m)

$41m of arbitration moneyMatt Kemp ($15m), Andre Ethier ($12m), Clayton Kershaw ($8m), James Loney ($6m) (all best guesses)

$3m of team control money – approximately, for minimum salary guys like Javy Guerra, Dee Gordon, Kenley Jansen, A.J. Ellis, and several others

We’ll assume that Kemp’s new contract is backloaded in such a way that his 2012 salary doesn’t change that much in either direction, and since then they’ve either added or are likely to add the following new contracts:

$7.5m of new money – $4m for Rivera, $2.5m for Ellis (backloaded, per Hernandez, and let’s enjoy paying him $5.25m in 2013!) and ~$1m for Treanor (per Jon Morosi, though it’s not finalized yet; if he doesn’t get it, someone else will to fill that role.)

That puts the budget up to about $106.5m, with $84m of that being 2012 players – which I assume is what Hernandez is referring to when he says that the payroll could be less, because only nerds like us remember the “dead money”.  Yet if Hernandez is correct and that number is to be lower – and let’s admit we don’t know if Hernandez’ info is good (though he’s generally excellent) or how much lower we’re talking about – the Dodgers could have only about $10m remaining to spend for the 2012 club. Is that enough to bring back Kuroda (who, by the way, decided to return for 2011 a year ago today, so the clock is ticking)? To get a fifth starter so Nathan Eovaldi can go back to the minors? To get another righty 1B/OF bench bat to ensure that Loney & Ethier never have to face lefties again? To bring back Tony Gwynn, as seems likely? To accommodate the inevitable guaranteed veteran reliever who will show up?

There are ways to decrease these commitments, I suppose. Maybe Loney is non-tendered, though that seems unlikely and you’d still need to replace him. Perhaps Kemp’s contract is even more backloaded than we think it’ll be. Or maybe this is finally the year Ethier gets traded, though again, I wouldn’t count on that. Either way, we can stop with the Prince Fielder and Aramis Ramirez talk, because it’s just not happening. Personally, I’d be happy with bringing back Kuroda for one more year and fill in around the edges as best as can be done.

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Joey Matschulat of Baseball Time in Arlington on Treanor:

Treanor did, of course, end up finding his way back to Texas when the Rangers acquired him just before the August 31st waiver-period trade deadline, but came to the plate only 12 times over the final month of the regular season, and didn’t record a single post-season plate appearance. For all of the praise that Treanor drew a year earlier vis-a-vis his game-calling and ability to handle the Rangers’ pitching staff, he had clearly ceded his previously high spot in the backstop pecking order to Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba, and thusly found himself relegated to more of an emergency catching/pinch-hitting role.

Notes From Japan: Kuroda & Nakajima

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but Patrick Newman of NBP Tracker (via MLBtraderumors) shares the news that Hiroki Kuroda has recieved an offer from the Hiroshima Carp to return to Japan and play for them in 2012. This isn’t really breaking news, because it’s long been assumed that Kuroda would only play for the Dodgers or the Carp, and whenever he does leave Los Angeles it’s likely that he’ll want to play at least one farewell season for his old club.

As translated by Newman, Kuroda had this to say about the offer:

 “I’m happy that they would evaluate my contributions like that. Naturally, I’m happy. A feeling that they really want to win came across. (Hiroshima’s competitiveness this season) has come to a frustrating place, to a place where they are one step away… I’m very happy I got an offer from the Carp.”

Still, I wouldn’t read too much into this. If we know anything about Kuroda, it’s that he’s forever going to be polite in the media, and there was no way he would say anything other than positive things about his former, and possibly future, team. I still have a 70/30 gut feeling that he’ll return for another year with the Dodgers, particularly with what we learned when he refused to waive his no-trade clause in July. Nor should it be a surprise that the Carp put forth an offer, because why wouldn’t they want him back? So I suppose what I’m trying to say is, “this isn’t really hot news, yet we’re talking about it anyway because it’s November 8 and it’s something that’s happening.”

Also of note in Newman’s report is this:

Like last year, Seibu shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima will again ask his management to send him to MLB via the posting system this offseason. This year, Seibu is expected to grant his wish. Nikkan Sports keeps mentioning the Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Orioles as possibly interested teams, but it’s not clear where that information is coming from.

I’m guessing that the Dodgers come up any time a Japanese player considers America, simply because of geography and history, so it’s not clear that there’s actually any interest there – or that Nakajima will even actually be posted. In August of 2010, Newman referred to Nakajima as “Japan’s second best hitter”, yet the .297/.354/.433 he put up in 2011 was by far the worst year of his career. The Dodgers don’t need a shortstop, though you’d expect he could handle second base; on the other hand, Minnesota’s high-profile import of Tsuyoshi Nishioka to do just that this past year couldn’t have gone worse.