He has, however, apparently made up his mind and told everyone in Japan that he plans to pitch for the Dodgers — something the Dodgers are still waiting to hear.
By Tony Jackson
All indications are that free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a veteran right-hander for the Hiroshima Carp who is seeking to come to the United States, has decided to sign with the Dodgers after being pursued at various times this winter by as many as 20 major-league clubs. But if Kuroda has made such a decision, that is news to Dodgers officials.
General manager Ned Colletti said early Wednesday evening that the club still hadn’t received word from either Kuroda or his San Diego-based agent, Steve Hilliard, that a decision had been made. But Kuroda’s arrival in Los Angeles from Tokyo on Wednesday morning, along with a slew of media reports out of Japan, all point toward Kuroda accepting what is believed to be a three-year, $30 million offer from the Dodgers.
“His agent resides out here, so (the trip) shouldn’t be interpreted as anything other than him meeting with his representatives here in the U.S.,” Colletti said at a news conference to formally introduce Andruw Jones, the Dodgers’ newly signed center fielder.
Besides that of the Dodgers, the most valiant efforts to land Kuroda came from Seattle, Arizona and Kansas City. But Kuroda, 32, strongly prefers the West Coast. His ultimate decision to go with the Dodgers over the Mariners — assuming that widely reported decision has actually been made — apparently was the result of several factors, not the least of which were Los Angeles’ vast Asian population, more lucrative endorsement opportunities and Kuroda’s longtime friendship with Dodgers closer Takashi Saito.
“I’m sure that Takashi has said hello once or twice (during negotiations),” Colletti said. “Maybe more, I don’t know.”
In fact, Saito actually joined Dodgers Asian operations director Acey Kohrogi and Japan-based scout Keiichi Kojima at a face-to-face meeting with Kuroda last month in Hiroshima.
Kuroda will fall somewhere into the middle of the Dodgers’ starting rotation and probably force veteran right-hander Esteban Loaiza to the bullpen unless Jason Schmidt’s comeback from shoulder surgery hits a snag.
Jones said that while he prefers to hit fourth in the Dodgers’ lineup next season, the subject hasn’t come up in any of his discussions with manager Joe Torre. Jones hit cleanup almost exclusively with Atlanta until this year, when his struggles at the plate forced Braves manager Bobby Cox to bat him anywhere from fourth to seventh.
Inserting Jones into the Dodgers’ cleanup spot might create a dicey situation for Torre — and a bruised ego for the incumbent No. 4 hitter, second baseman Jeff Kent.
“We have spring training to go through all that,” Jones said. “I would love to hit fourth here, but it depends on what will happen.”
The Dodgers might have severed ties with left-handed reliever Mark Hendrickson, declining to offer him a contract before the deadline and thus rendering him a free agent. But the club still can re-sign him, and the move was made simply to avoid going through the arbitration process with Hendrickson, who went 4-8 with a 5.21 ERA this season while making $2.925 million.
As a five-plus player, Hendrickson stood to make between $3.5 million and $4 million through arbitration.
“We discussed with his agent (Joe Urbon) bringing him back at a different rate of pay, and he declined,” Colletti said. “We can still bring him back if the situation lends itself to both of us.”
The Dodgers did make offers to their four other arbitration-eligibles, pitchers Joe Beimel, Yhency Brazoban and Scott Proctor and outfielder Jason Repko. Beimel is a five-plus who should get a sizable raise from this year’s $912,500. Brazoban, Proctor and Repko all are three-plus players, and each is likely to fall well south of $1 million.
By the way here is a blog bonus that you won’t get by putting your 50 cents in the little blue box tomorrow, because the print edition has space limitations that the blog does not: the Dodgers now have a total of 14 players who have either been signed to minor-league contracts and invited to spring training or invited to camp from within the organization. The list includes three that have already been reported in pitcher Chan-Ho Park, catcher Rene Rivera and infielder Terry Tiffee, and the new additions are pitchers Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Koplove, Brian Falkenborg, Rick Asadoorian, Fernando Desgue (Fernando-mania is back at Chavez Ravine!!!!!!), Greg Jones and Brian Shackelford; catcher Danny Ardoin (pronounced ar-DWAH, for those who have never been to Louisiana’s Cajun country); infielders Angel Chavez and John Lindsay and outfielder John-Ford Griffin. Of that group, only Lindsay was in the organization last year, slamming a total of 30 home runs in 300 ABs for Jacksonville and Las Vegas while driving in 121 runs.