Japanese pitcher Kuroda, Dodgers agree to 3-year deal

Updated: December 16, 2007, 5:25 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- Fulfilling one of their major offseason goals, the Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to terms with Japanese free-agent right-hander Hiroki Kuroda on a three-year, $35.3 million contract.

Kuroda, who turns 33 in February, passed a physical examination on Saturday and will be introduced Sunday at a Dodger Stadium news conference.

"Kuroda was arguably the best starting pitcher on the free-agent market and will be a great addition to our staff," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "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 to make Los Angeles his home."

The Dodgers are also hoping that Jason Schmidt can return from shoulder surgery and regain his old form. Esteban Loaiza, claimed off waivers from Oakland in August, is an additional starting candidate.

Seattle made a major push for Kuroda, with general manager Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren traveling to Japan recently to court the right-hander. The Mariners also have a lot of experience signing Japanese players, including outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and catcher Kenji Johjima.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals were among the other teams bidding for Kuroda's services.

Colletti has said throughout the offseason that adding a starting pitcher was a top priority. By signing a free agent instead of making a trade, the Dodgers didn't have to give up any of their highly regarded young players.

Kuroda's agent, Steve Hilliard, told ESPN.com that the pitcher turned down more lucrative offers elsewhere to sign with Los Angeles. He said all the finalists in the process -- including the Dodgers -- put four-year offers on the table. But Kuroda only wanted a three-year deal.

"In the end, Hiroki felt comfortable about the Dodgers organization and comfortable about himself and his family living in Los Angeles,'' Hilliard said. "That was the driving force behind the decision.''

Kuroda spent the past 11 seasons with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japanese Central League, where he had a 103-89 record and 3.69 ERA in 271 games. He went 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 26 games last season, working seven complete games.

A native of Osaka, Kuroda made the Japanese All-Star team in each of the past three seasons. He had his best year in 2006, going 13-6 with a league-leading 1.85 ERA in 26 games. He had a league-leading 15 victories the previous year, and was a member of the bronze medal-winning Japanese Olympic team in 2004.

Kuroda is friends with All-Star Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, and the two are represented in Japan by the same sports agency. Saito joined the Dodgers before the 2006 season. Colletti said last week he hadn't seen Kuroda pitch in person, but added: "The right people have seen him. What do I like about him? He's a good pitcher. He has some of the great attributes we admire in a pitcher."

Kuroda, a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder, will become the seventh Japanese player in Dodgers history. Earlier this month, the team announced the signing of right-hander Robert Boothe, the club's first amateur signing from Japan.

Kuroda figures to join right-handers Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley in the Los Angeles starting rotation.

Schmidt made only six starts before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last June, and Loaiza, claimed off waivers from Oakland on Aug. 29, is under contract for $6.5 million next year.

Information from ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jerry Crasnick and The Associated Press was used in this report.