Nothing is truly official yet, but Tony Jackson is reporting that we got Hiroki Kuroda signed to a three year deal for 36 to 40 million dollars. Yes, being an average pitcher in Japan now means that you get more money per year than Ted Lilly, who at least managed to be an average pitcher in America. I already covered exactly why I don't like Kuroda, so I'll just reprint that here:
The thing is, Kuroda isn't all that exciting of a pitcher. To best make my point, we'll play the beloved compare Kuroda to a mystery player game.
Kuroda, age 32 season: 179.7 IP, 6.16 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 2.92 K/BB, 1 HR/9
Mystery pitcher, age 28 season: 192.7 IP, 5.70 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 2.14 K/BB, 1.03 HR/9
And the mystery pitcher is...a small Filipino woman. Have I just blown your mind?
No wait, it's Kyle Lohse. Point is that while Kuroda is the superior pitcher, the fact that Lohse is four years younger, pitched in two of the biggest hitters parks in baseball, and actually was facing big league competition makes the gap mighty close. Now, since the general reaction to a Kyle Lohse signing would be Jonestown-esque, acquiring someone who might be a little better shouldn't inspire much confidence.
The scouting report on Kuroda is also pretty troubling. He doesn't have overpowering velocity with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, so he'll have trouble missing bats with that. More distressing is the fact that he has trouble keeping his slider down, which will almost certainly result in giving up a ton of bombs in the states if he keeps going to it like the scouting report suggests. His only swing and miss pitch in a splitter, but judging by his mediocre strikeout rate in the NPB, it doesn't look like people swing and miss at the thing all that often.
Kuroda is a player entering his mid 30s that had trouble missing bats against inferior competition. The only starters that have come from Japan with strikeout rates worse than Kuroda's are Keiichi Yabu and Masato Yoshii, neither of whom were exactly successful in their time in the states. Kuroda comes in with better control that either of those guys had, but it's still not a list of players that you want to be associated with.
Kuroda's "upside" comes from the fact that we aren't entirely certain that he's going to suck like Lohse will. Will he be able to get by just by being a new arm in the league in his first season? Maybe. But there's absolutely nothing here that suggests Kuroda will have any real sustained success in the bigs. If he can't keep his slider down, Kuroda becomes a two pitch pitcher in the bigs, and his out pitch isn't really all that fearsome.
And yes, all of this could be wrong, just look at what Saito did. However, I might have to invoke the Jamie Moyer rule and say that Takashi Saito can not be used as a precedent for anything. A guy leaping from a mediocre middle reliever in Japan to quite possibly the most dominant closer in the MLB at age 37 isn't likely to happen again. Unless Saito's magical transformation starts happening again and again, mediocre in Japan will probably mean worse than mediocre in the states. That pretty well sums up Kuroda.
There's a good chance that Kuroda isn't the fifth best pitcher on the team as it is right now, considering that we already have the out of options Hong-Chih Kuo, and James McDonald looked pretty ready for the big time last year. There's an even better chance that he won't be the fifth best pitcher on the team next year when Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets enter the market, and Clayton Kershaw and Scott Elbert have a good chance of being ready for the rotation.
That leaves two upsides to this signing. The first is that Kuroda will probably be better than Esteban Loaiza, making us a better team this year and giving us more depth when the injuries to our pitching staff start piling up. The second is that he gives us another option next year if the top arms get taken off the market and none of our young pitchers are ready. Even in the second case though, I'd probably rather give this money to Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez than Kuroda.
I wouldn't be surprised if Kuroda was pretty good the first time through the league, then started to crumble after that. The ability to dominate a lower league is very important to me when moving up a level of competition, and Kuroda was simply unable to do that. We get very little upside here, and the downside is the chance Kuroda is the second coming of Kei Igawa. The only hope we have here is that Kuroda goes Saito on the league, and gambling 12 million dollars plus on that fact seems very risky.
Update>>It's offical, Kuroda signed for three years, 35.3 million.