Newly acquired Kuroda takes mound following Dodgers introduction
LOS ANGELES -- Wearing a Dodgers jersey over his dress shirt and tie, Hiroki Kuroda took the Dodger Stadium mound for the first time on a sunny Sunday in Los Angeles.
The conditions were appropriate considering the free-agent Japanese right-hander said moments earlier at an introductory news conference that weather was a factor in his decision to sign with the Dodgers.
While it was nothing more than a photo opportunity, Kuroda seemed to enjoy the feeling of his new ballpark.
"You can tell it's going to be a great setting to play," he said through a translator, mentioning the tradition as well.
For the Dodgers, it was a vision they've awaited for a long time.
"We've been thinking about this for well over a year," general manager Ned Colletti said a day after Kuroda agreed to a three-year, $35.3 million contract. "Our expectation is he's going to be a real solid pitcher for us, make a lot of starts, pitches a lot of innings."
Kuroda, who turns 33 in February, receives a $7.3 million signing bonus and will be paid a salary of $5 million next season, $10 million in 2009 and $13 million in 2010.
"I haven't even pitched over here yet. For a team to value me that highly, it's certainly because of the players who have come over here [from Japan] and succeeded," Kuroda said. "I'm very thankful for that. In Japanese terms, it's an unbelievable contract."
Kuroda acknowledged that with the kind of money he'll earn, there will be some pressure. But, he added: "The only thing I'm thinking about is going out and pitching my game, doing the best I can."
Assistant GM Logan White, who scouted Kuroda several times, believes the pitcher's game will be difficult for the opposition to solve.
"He's got a loose, easy delivery, nice arm action," White said. "He throws strikes, he's around the zone. His basic fastball is going to be in the 89, 95 [mph] range. He locates the fastball well, he's got a hard, late-breaking slider, it's sharp and crisp. He's got a forkball that dives straight down."
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, and was a Japanese All-Star each of the past three years.
The Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City were among the teams bidding for Kuroda's services. Steve Hilliard, Kuroda's San Diego-based agent, said his client could have made more money by signing elsewhere.
"In the end, the driving force behind Hiroki's decision was what city and what organization he and his family were going to feel the most comfortable with," Hilliard said. "You hear this a lot, the cliche that it wasn't about the money. In this case, that was very true. There were more lucrative offers he turned down because he felt the most comfortable in Los Angeles."
Kuroda figures to join right-handers Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley in the Los Angeles starting rotation. Right-handers Jason Schmidt and Esteban Loaiza will be competing for jobs as well. Schmidt, who signed a three-year, $47 million contract last winter, made only six starts before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in June, and Loaiza, claimed off waivers from Oakland on Aug. 29, is under contract for $6.5 million next year.
"We'll let [manager] Joe Torre and [pitching coach] Rick Honeycutt decide that," Colletti replied when asked where Kuroda would fit in the rotation.
Colletti 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.
"I'm quite confident that with the moves we made this offseason, we will compete," Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said. "We went into this offseason with the objective of making our team better and not trading our young players who have so much promise. I would like to congratulate Ned Colletti for achieving that objective."
Besides hiring Torre as manager, the Dodgers signed 10-time Gold Glove center fielder Andruw Jones to a two-year, $36.2 million contract. The addition of Jones means Juan Pierre will move to left field and Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, two of the highly touted young players to whom McCourt referred, will compete for time in right field.
"I'd still like to add another player, a reliever or two," Colletti said. "We've got some other things we need to accomplish. Pitching's always going to be the key component."
Regarding third base, Colletti said: "We've explored it for a while, softly. I've got faith in Nomar [Garciaparra] in bouncing back. I've got faith in Andy LaRoche. We've got internal options."
The 34-year-old Garciaparra hit .283 with seven homers and 59 RBIs last season while the 24-year-old LaRoche, in his first big-league season, hit .226 in 93 at-bats with one homer and 10 RBIs.
Colletti also said he figured to have an announcement soon on a catcher to back up Russell Martin, an All-Star last year in his second big-league season.
While Kuroda was being photographed on the Dodger Stadium mound, he had a brief telephone conversation through a translator with Martin, who was calling from his home in Canada.
When asked what Martin had to say, Kuroda replied: "We're a part of the same team now. I'm looking forward to meeting you."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press