Yesterday afternoon, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Dodgers have placed Hiroki Kuroda on waivers. Only a few weeks removed from dealing away Blake DeWitt to acquire Ted Lilly, the Dodgers have finally smartened up and realized that their odds of making the playoffs are slim to none. Twelve games back in the division, the Dodgers PECOTA-adjusted playoff odds are a mere 0.3%; for all intents and purposes, their season is over. Ken Rosenthal went on to quote a rival executive (whether that’s a rival of the Yankees or a rival of the Dodgers is unclear) who said, “I guarantee the Yankees are all over it”. Given the struggles of AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez and the pending innings limit of Phil Hughes (and the need to use him in October), this would come as no surprise.
Hiroki Kuroda is a right-hander who made his career in Japan before signing a three year, $35.3 million dollar deal with the Dodgers prior to the 2008 season. In his MLB career, Kuroda is 25-28 over 448.0 innings with a 3.66 ERA, a 3.53 FIP and a 3.77 xFIP. In every season his strikeout rate has improved, and this year it is 7.21 K/9. Kuroda also has good control, showing a 2.09 BB/9 rate over the course of his career with a 2.32 BB/9 this season. One of his distinguishing features, and the one that to me makes him a superior option to Dodgers lefty Ted Lilly, is his ability to keep the ball on the ground. Kuroda’s ground-ball percentage is 52.6% this year, which ranks 15th best in all of baseball.
Kuroda is owed $2.7M over the remainder of the season, which is not exactly a small amount. This fact may limit the number of teams willing to make a claim on him. Taking a glance around the league, we see the following teams in contention in the National League: the Braves, Phillies, Reds, Cardinals, Padres and Giants. Among those teams, the Braves, Cardinals and Giants appear set with full rotations. The Phillies might be a possibility, but they have taken on loads of salary with the additions of Halladay and Oswalt. This leaves the Reds and the Padres as the prime contenders, given the relative youth and inexperience in their rotations. However, their ability to add salary at this point is simply unknown. In the American League, the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox and Rangers are all in contention. The White Sox and Rangers can probably be ruled out due to full rotations. Among the remaining teams, the Twins have a relatively full rotation and are not certain to be able to add salary. Both the Rays and Red Sox have little use for Kuroda on their squad as well. Either could attempt to block the Yankees from getting Kuroda, but would run the risk of getting stuck with Kuroda’s salary. Another relevant factor is the fact that Kuroda, despite his Type B free agent status this offseason, is not likely to be offered arbitration by the acquiring club. Kuroda makes $13M this season; offering him arbitration would mean that he might net upwards of $15M in 2011. This is an unacceptably high number.
If Kuroda makes it through waivers to the Yankees, the club should attempt to acquire him. Los Angeles is looking to move his salary and wouldn’t be able to demand anything more than fringe-level prospects, so the cost to the Yankees would be simply money. This team has huge question marks in Burnett and Vazquez, and could use Kuroda to stabilize the rotation down the stretch and into October. Ivan Nova and Dustin Moseley have been a nice little surprise, but adding Kuroda would be the icing on the cake.