It seems pretty apparent that the Tigers are not going to make any substantial moves until international free agent Yoennis Cespedes’ situation is worked out. I highly doubt they go into next season with the current roster as it stands, the team still has a few holes to fill. An area of need for the Tigers is SP. As of now, they field four above average SP, but the last spot is still in question. Who better to fill it than a veteran SP who throws 200 IP a year, and won’t ask for a long commitment? Hiroki Kuroda fits that bill perfectly.
General manager Dave Dombrowski has stated that the Tigers are not looking for a long-term solution at SP for this upcoming season. In his words, they’re probably looking for a guy like Joe Saunders, however, apparently he, or the baseball world has gone mad, and he’s seeking a three year deal. However, a guy like Kuroda could add to an already potent rotation, and give top prospect Jacob Turner some time to marinade in the minor leagues, possibly for the entire season. At the ripe old age of 20, that may not be a bad idea. If someone suffers an injury, which the Tigers have avoided the last few seasons, Turner or Drew Smyly would be first in line to make a few spot starts, a nice position to be in for the defending AL Central champs.
Kuroda has been a model of consistency throughout his MLB career, especially in the last two seasons. Each of the last two years have been over 195 IP, and he’s sported a shiny 3.39 and 3.07 ERA in 2010 and 2011 respectively. His peripherals are extremely good, 7.3 and 7.2 K/9 and an identical 2.2 BB/9, while also limiting home runs, have given Kuroda a 3.52 combined FIP over the last two seasons, accounting for 6.5 WAR. For a point of reference, that ties him with Max Scherzer over the two year time frame, and places him within .5 WAR of guys like Gio Gonzalez, Jaime Garcia, Chad Billingsley, Tommy Hanson, and James Shields. In other words, he’s an extremely nice #3 starter.
Some questions do arise when signing a player from the national league, especially the NL West, notorious for poor hitting and spacious ballparks. However, Kuroda’s numbers do translate well on the road, where he has a 3.48 ERA, extremely similar to his home number of 3.43. In fact, last year Kuroda’s road ERA was 2.85, while his home number was 3.27 at Dodger Stadium. The right hander is extremely consistent, and last year, posted monthly ERA’s of 3.10, 4.02, 2.12, 3.16, 2.57, and 3.34.
Kuroda’s offerings include a 4 seam fastball, a sinker, a cutter, a slider, a curveball, and a splitfinger fastball. He works primarily between 90-93 with his fastball, and loves to work the corners of the plate with all of his pitches. Moreover, Kuroda has swing and miss stuff, causing his opposing batters to swing through his pitches at around a 10% rate, and his SWSTR% last season of 10.3 was 17th among the 94 qualified starters. That actually ranked above Justin Verlander’s 10.2%.
While there is a lot of upside to Kuroda, there are a few hoops the Tigers would need to jump through in order to make this happen. For one, it seems as if Kuroda prefers the coasts. Detroit may not be a desirable destination for him. However, if they offer the best deal with the best chance to win, that may change his mind. Of course, the money aspect definitely comes into play here. Like I’ve said before, no major moves will happen until the Cespedes situation is resolved. No one knows how much Mike Illich is willing to spend on this year’s team, and the Tigers have operated at a 130MM+ payroll two of the last four seasons, so anything is possible. A one year deal at around 12MM with an option for next season at a similar price could be extremely enticing to Kuroda, and be a win/win for both sides. He’d likely retire a Tiger, as he’ll be 37 years old in February. As one of, if not the best Japanese pitcher to come to the US, it’d be great to see Hiroki Kuroda in a Tiger uniform.