NEW YORK -- Seeking stability in their rotation, the Yankees on Tuesday turned to the same place they found it a year before. The club re-signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract worth a reported $15 million plus incentives, answering perhaps the most critical question of New York's offseason.
"I suspect it was a very aggressive market for him, as it should have been," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I feel fortunate that we were able to acquire him last year, and I feel the same way this year."
Most important for the Yankees, Kuroda should provide the same sort of consistency he did in 2012, when he went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in 33 starts, leading the team in wins, ERA, starts, complete games and shutouts.
Though Kuroda recently rejected the Yankees' one-year, $13 million qualifying offer, it was widely assumed that he was still interested in a one-year deal. He was also reportedly considering a return to Los Angeles, where he played from 2008-11 with the Dodgers, or Japan, where he broke into professional baseball with the Hiroshima Carp in 1997.
"I am very happy and excited to re-sign with the Yankees," Kuroda said. "I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me. It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season."
Kuroda, who will turn 38 before Opening Day, has found mostly success since leaving the Carp to try his hand in the Majors. He posted a 3.45 ERA over four seasons with the Dodgers, striking out more than three times as many batters as he walked. Answering all questions about his readiness to tackle the American League East last season, he proved immune to the regression that haunts most pitchers upon a jump from the National League.
As a result, he quickly became indispensable to the Yankees, who would have been hard-pressed to replace him considering the state of their rotation. CC Sabathia should again anchor the rotation next season, and Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova or David Phelps could round out the bunch behind him. But beyond the very top of the rotation, the situation grows murky.
"He can play a really important role here as he did last year," Cashman said. "He's a pro. He did everything on the field and had a seamless transition to New York in our clubhouse and off the field, so he was a welcome addition last year and I look forward to him this year slotting behind CC and make our starting rotation deeper."
Kuroda was one of three players to reject qualifying offers from the Yankees. The others, Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher, are not as likely to re-sign, though the Yankees are good bets to pursue Soriano for bullpen insurance behind Mariano Rivera. Because the Yankees gave Kuroda a qualifying offer, they would have been eligible for Draft pick compensation had he signed with another club.
In his five big league seasons, Kuroda has never produced an ERA lower than 3.07 or higher than 3.76. He has thrown at least 196 innings in each of his last three seasons, which could be his most valuable trait for a team searching for rotation consistency. Nor did hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium adversely affect him; he went 11-6 with a 2.72 ERA at home compared with 5-5 with a 4.23 mark on the road.
"As a pitcher, I try to evolve and be creative every year that I pitch," Kuroda said during the regular season. "I like to believe that I'm evolving and that I'm a better pitcher now than I was before."
He apparently evolved enough to become one of the few Yankees who carried his regular-season success into the postseason, giving up five runs over a combined 16 innings against the Orioles and Tigers. Kuroda struck out 14 and walked five, though the Yankees supported him with a total of three runs in his two outings.
Next up for the Yankees could be Andy Pettitte, who is deciding whether to play another season at age 41. Though it is widely expected that Pettitte, who went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts last season, will return for another go, it is possible he could choose to retire for the second time in two years. He missed three months last summer with a broken left fibula after coming out of retirement to rejoin the Yankees.
"Andy is deciding whether he wants to play," Cashman said. "As of right now he hasn't put himself in play, so there really is nothing to discuss at this point until he goes through that process which he said he will be doing."