Free agent starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is unlikely to sign elsewhere, but he might very well retire rather than return to Major League Baseball. In order to keep that from happening, the Yankees, the club Kuroda spent the last two seasons with, have increased their offer to the free agent right-hander from the one-year qualifying offer to something believed to be in the $15-16 million range, according to ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand.
Kuroda, who will be 39 years old in 2014, threw 201 innings from the Bombers this past season, giving him three-straight 200-plus inning campaigns. It was also his third season in a row with an ERA+ of at least 120. While he struggled over his final seven starts of the season, posting a 6.80 ERA courtesy an opponents line of .314/.360/.554, he has been one of the more reliable arms in the game since he came to Major League Baseball back in 2008.
The Yankees, who missed the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2008, could use Kuroda back in the rotation, and would love to pay him a significant sum for one year rather than invest in a lesser, younger arm who will require more of a long-term commitment, such as the recently departed Phil Hughes, who just signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Twins. If they are able to retain Kuroda with this latest offer, a slight increase in pay from the qualifying offer that doesn't have the same immediate deadline for acceptance, then the 2014 rotation will start with CC Sabathia, Kuroda, and Ivan Nova, with the back-end spots either filled out internally -- with, say Michael Pineda, acquired before 2012, finally making a start in a Yankees uniform -- or through a combination of acquisitions and the former.
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Marchand suggests the Yankees want to keep an eye on Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who could be available through the posting system once MLB and Japan's NPB finish negotiations on the latest iteration. Should Kuroda head in the opposite direction back to Japan, the need for Tanaka will be that much greater. New York's 2012 rotation posted a 4.08 ERA -- league-average was 4.15 -- and allowed opponents to hit a slightly better-than-average line against them, even with park and league effects taken into account. There is definite room for improvement, as the pitching was and is solid, but the lineup has so many questions that solid just won't cut it.
Of course, the Yankees might have to wait to see whether or not they are paying for Alex Rodriguez in 2014 before they are able to commit further big money to the short-term. If A-Rod's suspension is erased, New York is on the hook for $27.5 million towards the $189 million luxury tax threshold -- should it be simply reduced, though, the Yankees would have more wiggle room, and if it's upheld entirely, they've all of a sudden got a whole lot of money to play with in their quest to stay under the soft cap.