A relief. That was how general manager Brian Cashman described the signing of Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $15 million contract with the Yankees yesterday. It was the perfect description. Kuroda was a smooth, confident and low-maintenance pitcher last season. He was also the Yankees’ best pitcher so it was definitely a relief for them to know that he will return in 2013.
The relationship between Kuroda and the Yankees is an appropriate one. The Yankees strongly prefer to sign any starting pitchers to one-year deals because they are insistent on keeping their payroll under $189 million for 2014. Kuroda prefers to sign one-year deals because, eventually, he wants to return to Japan and finish his career in his native country. So, in pursuit of these goals, the pitcher and the team have a perfect marriage.
“The bottom line is, yes, it’s a relief to know that Hiroki is back,” Cashman said. “And it fits the criteria that we put forth and it’s a short-term deal. It provides flexibility as we move forward. It gives us an important, valuable arm to our rotation. So, as long as he can stay healthy, with what we have, we feel we know what we’re going to get.”
What the Yankees got from Kuroda was a four-pitch pitcher who went 16-11 with a 3.32 earned run average in a career-best 219 2/3 innings. Before and after the Yankees signed Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal last January, there were questions about how he would transition from the National League to the American League. Those questions quickly faded. Kuroda was as solid for the Yankees last season as he had been for the Dodgers in 2011.
“A seamless transition to New York,” Cashman said.
As the Yankees navigate through what should be a busy offseason, the signing of Kuroda is the first step toward a productive offseason. If Andy Pettitte decides to return next season, which appears likely, the Yankees would add him to their rotation as well. CC Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte would be a reliable threesome at the top of the rotation, provided the veteran pitchers can dodge injuries. Sabathia and Kuroda were in the top 10 in the league in ERA while Pettitte, who didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify to be among the leaders, had a better ERA than both of them at 2.87.
By signing Kuroda, the Yankees made one of their most crucial moves of the offseason before we have reached Thanksgiving. Kuroda is a dependable pitcher, a pitcher who is worth the investment. Because the free-agent market has been very aggressive, Cashman said he suspected that Kuroda “left money on the table” by returning to the Yankees.
“I feel fortunate that we were able to acquire him last year,” Cashman said. “I feel the same way this year.”
Cashman feels relieved, as he should.
Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES