The Yankees' starter might decide today whether or not he's a Yankee going forward
The Yankees extended a qualifying offer to Hiroki Kuroda a week ago, giving him seven days to mull over a one-year, $13.3 million contract. At 5 pm on Friday, Kuroda will have to accept or reject this contract, and while it doesn't represent the last communication that the right-hander can have with New York, it says something about his plans if he turns down a $3.3 million raise to the team he played with -- and so well -- in 2012.
It doesn't say he's tired of New York, or wants out from being a Yankee. But the Yankees offered a one-year deal, whereas others, like the Dodgers, have already made it known that Kuroda can sign for two years, if he's looking for some security and guaranteed money. Because of this, Kuroda might not make it back to the Yankees after all. But it's not just the Dodgers looking to bring in Kuroda, as Boston is also on the prowl yet again. And, they have the money and roster space to go two years with the veteran hurler, if that's what it's going to take to bring him in.
If the Yankees weren't looking to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, then keeping Kuroda would be simple enough for them. They could match opposing teams dollar for dollar in the negotiations both this year ad next, and keep their prize where they want him. They do want under the luxury tax, however, as the new collective bargaining agreement grants teams a mulligan on their penalties if they can get under the tax just one time. In the past, the tax levied was measured against how many times in the recent past a club was over the luxury tax threshold. Right now, though, if the Yankees are under the tax in 2013 or 2014, they will only have to pay the first-time penalty level in the next season, should they go over the threshold again. That's a significant difference, as we're talking a 17 percent tax versus a tax of 50 percent, given the number of times the Yankees have shot past the barrier.
The fact that there will also be rebates on revenue sharing checks for teams who do not cross the luxury tax threshold is an additional reason, but the reset on the penalty levels is the primary attraction. The Red Sox, thanks to the Nick Punto trade, have already set themselves up to manage the feat, and have more money to spend this off-season than anyone else, should they choose to go that route. The Yankees already have $131 million on the books for 2013, though, without even accounting for what their arbitration-eligible or their pre-arb players will take in. Seeing both Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher reject their qualifying offers is a good sign for the 2013 budget, but there's still only so much money to be spent on Kuroda, especially since New York has to replace some of their departing players. Putting more money in the 2014 budget could be problematic with the goal of slipping under the luxury tax.
That's where Boston comes in, as they, even after plugging in the projected costs for their arb-eligibles and the rest of the 40-man, are closer to $90 million in total payroll. That's a massive amount of flexibility, and if it means something like paying Kuroda $30 million over two years in order to take him away from the Yankees and boost the production of their own rotation, then it's not only a must, but a much easier task than even last year, when Boston couldn't scrape together $10 million to counter New York's Kuroda offer with. Kuroda will be 38 and 39 years old during those two seasons, but he's always been a bit on the grey side -- Kuroda didn't join MLB until he was already 33 -- and it hasn't slowed him down yet. A pitcher who relies on command and control, as Kuroda does, will go as long as his accuracy allows, and it's far less risky overall to deal with someone his age for two years than it is to sign someone younger for a much longer contract. Think of it as concentrated riskiness, rather than playing the pitcher lottery for four, five, or six years with a younger prize.
Kuroda, like Ortiz, would be an aging bridge piece to keep the Red Sox competitive in the now, while the reinforcements that theoretically will staff what Ben Cherington likes to refer to as the next great Red Sox team sort themselves out in the minors. Kuroda would also be part of what will be a major transition in the rotation, when Jon Lester and John Lackey both become free agents following 2014. Boston is looking towards the future, but there's also an opportunity to win now with this current core, and acquiring someone like Kuroda keeps that chance alive without sacrificing the future. You can't ask for a much better fit than that in Boston's current situation.
Because of that, today's 5 pm deadline for the qualifying offer is important. Boston might have to move fast on Kuroda to keep the Yankees from finding a creative way to make sure they have the money for him, but given their already reported high interest, they already appear to be going that route.