How Will The Kuroda-To-Japan Rumors Impact The Yankees' Offseason Approach?

Kuroda vs BAL (Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod.  Post has been updated to reflect yesterday's qualifying offer rejections)

Yesterday we got confirmation of what we expected to happen when all 3 Yankee qualifying offer recipients rejected the offers.  There's been some early indication that C-Grand will look for a multi-year deal elsewhere and the Yankee remain the only team so far that has made a contract offer to Robbie Cano, but there hasn't been much talk about Hiroki Kuroda.  He's a very quiet guy in the media by nature and there isn't anybody in the mainstream Yankosphere who's gotten a word out of him on what his thoughts might be.

The few reports that are out there right now make it sound like Hirok is leaning towards returning to Japan to pitch next year.  That's always been part of his retirement plan and it stands to reason that he would want to be able to go back there and pitch while he could still be effective.  Kuroda has fallen off in the 2nd half of the last 2 seasons, maybe he's taking that as a sign that it's time to get out of MLB while he still has something left in the tank.

If that's the direction Hirok is taking, how will that influence the Yankees' plans to rebuild their rotation?  He's unquestionably been the best starter on the staff since joining the team and would surely be a welcome addition back next year.  But at what price?  Kuroda made $15 million this season and if he rejects the qualifying offer of $14.1 mil it will take another salary boost to entice him to stay.

With the Yankees having their sights set on a lot of targets at a lot of positions, will they want to pay 16, 17, 18 million to keep Kuroda around?  That's a lot of dough to pay to a 39-year-old starting pitcher and it's money that could be shuffled to another part of the roster if they decided not to pursue Kuroda at that price.  The Yanks could also sign another free agent starter - Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza possibly - for less than that and pair him with Masahiro Tanaka, who they're reportedly all in on whenever he's posted by his NPB team.  Any combination of those 3 pitchers could come in around $22-25 million AAV, potentially a better investment for multiple years than Kuroda at 1.

Kuroda's decision is pretty easy.  Wherever he decides he wants to pitch next year, there's going to be a contract offer waiting for him and he's going to have a ton of fans cheering for him.  For the Yankees it's not so simple.  They have to decide how much another year of Kuroda is worth to them and if they think they can afford it.  They also have to weigh the risk of 1 more year of a late-30s Kuroda versus multiple years of other starting pitching options in their prime.  If Kuroda really does want to return to Japan, I'd be tempted to let him walk.  Better to give up on older pitchers 1 year too early than 1 year too late.

(Photo courtesy of the AP)