Source: Kuroda to travel to USA to mull MLB offers

Updated: December 12, 2007, 3:12 PM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, the most hotly-pursued starter on this winter's free agent market, will travel to the United States this week to meet with his agent and go over offers from major-league clubs, a source told ESPN.com.

Several media outlets in Japan and Los Angeles have reported that Kuroda cancelled his U.S. visit and is leaning heavily toward signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But Kuroda's planned trip to California to meet with agent Steve Hilliard appears to indicate that he's not as far along in the process as the reports suggest.

The Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals have all made offers to Kuroda. The estimates of his price tag have generally fallen in the three-year, $36 million range, although the lack of alternatives on the free agent market could force clubs to offer a longer deal for more money.

The two most prominent major leagers available as free agents this winter are Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse, both of whom are believed to be seeking four- or five-year deals for more than $10 million annually.

Kuroda, 32, went 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons while pitching in a hitter's park for the Hiroshima Carp. He throws a fastball at 92-94 mph, an above average slider and a changeup that acts like a forkball. He's had some elbow issues in the past, and that could be a concern. But lots of baseball people rank him just a tick behind Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"He's a legit middle- to back-of-the-rotation starter," a National League executive recently told ESPN.com. "Of all the free agents, I think he's the best one out there."

Seattle made a big early push for Kuroda when general manager Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren traveled to Japan to meet with him personally. The Mariners also have a long history with Japanese players, including center fielder Ichiro Suzuki and catcher Kenji Johjima.

The Dodgers would like to plug Kuroda into their rotation with Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley. Los Angeles isn't quite sure what to expect from Jason Schmidt in his comeback from season-ending shoulder surgery.

Closer Takashi Saito has been a major success since coming to Los Angeles from Japan, with 63 saves in his first two seasons as a Dodger.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he hasn't spoken with Kuroda's representatives for several days.

"We'll see where it goes,'' Colletti said. "I'm not sure what direction it's going to be heading in.''

Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer