One of the decisions the New York Yankees will need to make this offseason is whether they should try to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda. This is among the no-brainer choices in my opinion but what kind of deal do the Yankees have to make Kuroda to keep him in the Bronx considering his 2012 season may have opened some eyes around the Major Leagues? Should the Yankees offer Kuroda a qualifying contract for 2013, so they get something in return should he go elsewhere?
The qualifying contract value is $13.2 million for this year. What this means is that if a player was with their team for the entirety of the 2012 season and the team offers the player a minimum contract offer of one year for $13.2 million, he doesn’t accept it and the player signs elsewhere, the team receives a sandwich pick between the first and second round in the subsequent First-Year Player Draft. For detailed bullet points on how the new compensation system works check out this bulleted list provided by MLB Trade Rumors. The Yankees are sure to offer these types of deals to Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano as their expected salary demands are in this neighborhood and since they want multiyear deals the Yankees will likely pass on them for 2013 and beyond. The team has five days to make these offers now that the World Series has ended and the players get seven days to decide on the offer.
Kuroda’s situation is not as simple as Swisher’s and Soriano’s. He earned $10 million 2012 so a $3.2 million raise is somewhat lofty on its face. The dilemma is that Kuroda could use his 2012 performance as a means to garner a contract for two-years, netting him more guaranteed salary. The Yankees are looking to significantly decrease their total payroll for the 2014 season so having Kuroda on the roster at 39-years-old earning over $10 million may not make sense.
In 2012, Kuroda’s 16-11 record with a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) translated into a fWAR of 3.9. This was worth $17.5 million in value to the Yankees. So, he far outperformed his contract. The biggest issue the Yankees have with offering Kuroda a qualifying contract is him settling on it and his performance not matching up to the salary. What would Kuroda have to do in 2013 to net a value of $13.2 million?
Honestly, not an awful lot. Using a ratio derived from last season’s results, one WAR equaled $4.49 million in Kuroda’s case ($17.5 million divided by 3.9). If we add a simple 5 percent inflationary increase for 2013, one WAR would have the approximate equivalent of $4.71 million. Take $13.2 million, divide that by $4.71 million and it gives us a WAR of about 2.8. What does this look like on the field?
Well, Homer Bailey finished the 2012 season with a 2.8 WAR. He went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA (3.97 FIP) in 208 innings. He had a 7.27 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9 while allowing 1.13 HR/9. Kuroda’s peripherals were 6.84 K/9, 2.04 BB/9 and 1.02 HR/9. Bailey’s numbers are very much in line with Kuroda’s. I’m fairly certain the Yankees would have been happy with those numbers from anyone this season so why not next?
Making a qualifying offer to Kuroda may seem far-fetched simply looking at what he earned in 2012, but if he is able to parlay his efforts into a two-year offer for $22 million elsewhere, I’m not certain the Yankees jump on matching that type of deal. Offering the qualifying contract at least nets them the sandwich pick which is better than nothing. The risk of Kuroda simply taking the offer is minimal in the scope of what is expected of him on the field. In fact, the numbers described more or less show some regression which the Yankees may suspect Kuroda provides in 2013. Plus, if Kuroda was to sign such a deal the Yankees would not be on the hook for him in 2014 at 39-years-old.
Offering such a contract does not preclude the Yankees from increasing their offer should Kuroda decline the qualifying contract and other pieces do not fall into place. In my view the Yankees will need Kuroda, but again at what cost? The Yankees are set with CC Sabathia and more than likely maintain Phil Hughes. If they convince Pettitte to give one more season then they can fill one spot with David Phelps and the other with Kuroda. Michael Pineda is not expected back until around mid-season so he’s not a definite option. Ivan Nova could bounce back, but have the Yankees soured on him? If Pettitte retires then Kuroda gains some more leverage and could force the Yankees hand in adding a second year (if he doesn’t accept the qualifying offer) which won’t be easy with the 2014 competitive balance threshold looming ($189 million). If they fail to offer the qualifying contract and he does sign elsewhere the Yankees get nothing in return.
It’s a fine line and I’m not suggesting the Yankees would be making a mistake by failing to offer Kuroda a qualifying offer. I can see why such a lofty salary would be hard to swallow and how they may bank on the notion that there is not a team out there who will offer two years to Kuroda. The Yankees also know that Kuroda is very picky about where he plays so maybe that plays a part in them deciding against making a qualifying offer. Regardless, I don’t see the harm in offering Kuroda such a deal. The Yankees know full well his potential salary in 2014 does not fit their plans and the options in the upcoming free agent market are not exactly eye-popping for players who would be willing to work on a one-year deal with Kuroda’s potential. We’ll see how it plays out later next week.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.