The Dodgers added an arm to their starting rotation and did so without parting with any of their young talent, although they will have to part with more of owner Frank McCourt’s money.
Japanese free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth $35.3 million, passed a physical Saturday morning at Centinela Hospital and will be introduced at a news conference today at Dodger Stadium.
The right-hander, who turns 33 in February, will be paid a $7.3-million signing bonus. He will earn a salary of $5 million next season, $10 million in 2009 and $13 million in 2010.
Kuroda figures to be a third or fourth starter, behind Brad Penny and Derek Lowe and, perhaps, Chad Billingsley. The acquisition of the right-hander is the second significant haul on the free-agent market for General Manager Ned Colletti, the first being center fielder Andruw Jones, who signed a two-year deal worth $36.2 million.
The 6-foot-1 Kuroda is said to have a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s, slider, forkball and “shuuto,” which resembles a reverse slider.
He was 12-8 with a 3.56 earned-run average for the Hiroshima Carp last season and leaves Japan with a career record of 103-89 and a 3.69 ERA.
Like center field, starting pitching was considered by Colletti to be an area where the Dodgers required an upgrade. But the asking prices on the trade market have been steep -- the Dodgers were asked for multiple young players in exchange for the likes of the Minnesota Twins’ Johan Santana or the Baltimore Orioles’ Erik Bedard -- and the talent on the free-agent market minimal.
Kuroda was the only free-agent starter to draw serious interest from the Dodgers.
Because Kuroda was a free agent, he didn’t come to the majors through the posting system, which requires teams to bid for the right to simply talk to players. The Boston Red Sox paid a posting fee of $51.1 million last year to the Seibu Lions to open negotiations with pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.
“There was a lot of competition for a pitcher of his ilk and we’re thrilled that he’s chosen to become a Dodger and make Los Angeles his home,” Colletti said in a written statement.
Kuroda chose the Dodgers over the Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals. The Mariners were the other team Kuroda strongly considered.
The Dodgers sent a three-man contingent that included closer Takashi Saito to meet with Kuroda in Tokyo last month. Director of Asian operations Acey Kohrogi and scout Keiichi Kojima also went to the meeting.
Kuroda flew to Los Angeles last week to discuss his options with his agent, Steve Hilliard, who also represents Saito.
“He turned down better financial opportunities elsewhere because in the end, he thought that he and his family would feel the most comfortable in Los Angeles,” Hilliard said. “There is such a big Japanese population in the city and the assimilation process for him and his family will be easier.
“You hear oftentimes a player say that a deal wasn’t about the money, but this decision really wasn’t about the money. It was about his family.”
Hilliard said each of the final four teams vying for Kuroda’s services offered four-year contracts, including the Dodgers.
“It was his decision,” Hilliard said of Kuroda taking a shorter deal. “In the end, he was more comfortable with a three-year contract.”
The duration of the deal will allow Kuroda to return to the Carp, with whom he had an amicable parting. When Kuroda announced last month that he would leave Japan for the majors, the Carp said it would leave open his No. 15 jersey in case he ever wanted to play for them again.
According to Japanese news reports, a tearful Kuroda said at that news conference, “I made the decision because I wanted to go one step forward as a baseball player. I would’ve been fine finishing my career with the Carp, but my feelings of wanting to challenge myself in a different kind of baseball grew stronger.”
Hilliard confirmed that Saito has received an offer from the Dodgers and that they remain in negotiations. Saito doesn’t have a 2008 contract but is under the Dodgers’ control.
He earned $1 million last season when he had 39 saves.