The latest name to be pursing the lips of eager Arizona Diamondbacks fans is Hiroki Kuroda. Wait what was that name again? Hiroki Kuroda. Like most Americans I tied my tongue in a knot that would have made many a Boy Scout proud as I attempted to pronounce his name. And as like many people from the United States, if I can’t speak a foreign language and can’t seem to get the pronunciation correct; I just speak louder. THE ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS ARE INTERESTED IN SIGNING HIROKI KURODA. There now I am sure I got it right. If you are like most fans I have talked to in the last couple of days you are sitting there scratching your head wondering what the heck a Hiroki Kuroda is and how he fits into the plans of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hiroki Kuroda was born in Osaka, Osaka Japan. I’ve never been to Japan so I am not sure if Osaka, Osaka is like New York, New York but it does sound cool doesn’t it? Hiroki’s father was Japanese outfielder Kazuhiro Kuroda and his mother was a shotput competitor in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics so he comes from a long line of athletes capable of throwing things (some heavier than others). Hiroki went to Uenomiya High School in Osaka. Ah, good old Uenomiya High School. It has the kind of ring to it that would make it a natural for the Japanese version of Grease or High School Musical 37 doesn’t it? I so wanted to try and find the mascot for Uenomiya but all I could find out was that Uenomiya High School was denied participation in the Koshien (Japanese high school baseball tournament) in 1992 due to an assault of a student by a former coach (this could have been due to a translational problem of the High School Musical song – Get Your Head In the Game but I am not sure) and that Uenomiya seems to be an incubator for young Japanese cricket players (the game not the insect). After graduating from good old Uenomiya High, Hiroki Kuroda went on to Senshu University where he played baseball in the Tohto University Baseball League. Hiroki Kuroda was drafted in the second round of the 1996 NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) draft by Hiroshima Carp. The Carp saw Kuroda as a starting pitcher and worked with him. In 1997 while with the carp he struck out the first batter he faced, one Hideki Matsui. Kuroda would go on to post a 6-9 record with a 4.40 ERA as a rookie but suffered a shoulder injury that cost him much of the 1998 season. Kuroda began making progress in 2001 when he went 12-8 with a 3.03 ERA while recording 13 complete games. It was at this time that he earned his nickname Mr. Complete Game. For most of his career Hiroki Kuroda has been in the top 10 in complete games meaning he eats a lot of innings. In 2005 Kuroda earned a Gold Glove and was named to the Best Nine as the top pitcher in the league. After that season he became the first 200-million yen pitcher in Carp history. His career ERA of 3.69 is especially impressive since he plays in a distinctly hitter friendly park in Hiroshima. Kuroda signed a contract in 2006 that gave him the ability to opt out and become a free agent after 2007. Hiroki exercised that option making himself available to Major League Baseball teams.
Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Josh Byrnes confirmed that the Diamondbacks were interested in Kuroda and have made him a contract offer. It has been rumored that Kuroda is looking for a 3-4 year deal for approximately $11 million per year. While the Diamondbacks would not say what their offer was it has been suggested that it is a 3-year $27 million offer. Besides the Diamondbacks, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, and Seattle Mariners have all expressed interest in Hiroki Kuroda. The Seattle Mariners appear to have the inside track for signing Kuroda but the free agent pitcher is not likely to make a decision for a week or so. The Japanese press has suggested that Kuroda may spurn the offers from American teams and return to NPB but that seems unlikely. So what would Kuroda bring to the Diamondbacks?
Hiroki Kuroda possesses a 4-pitch repertoire including a mid-90’s fastball, slider, forkball, and the dreaded shuuto. Wait, what the heck is a shuuto? At first I thought that was what you did to a dooro and I had no idea what that parlayed into baseball terms but I was mistaken. A shuuto is a “reverse slider” which is sort of like a screwball but without as much break. Kuroda would not be what you would call a power pitcher. He is more what is referred to as a “crafty veteran” which is a sly way of saying the dude throws serious junk and gets out of jams. Kuroda fits the mold of what Josh Byrnes looks for in a starter. He wants someone dependable that can eat lots of innings. That is definitely something that Mr. Complete Game is known for. The Arizona Diamondbacks definitely need another starting pitcher and Hiroki Kuroda is profiled as a number 3 or number 4 starter by several scouts. That would fit in nicely to the spot vacated by Livan Hernandez. The only question is whether Arizona’s offer is good enough to tempt Kuroda to choose the Diamondbacks. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.