The Seattle Mariners are pushing hard to land Japanese free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, and their pursuit of the 32-year-old right-hander has reached the stage where the team is considering sending a delegation to Tokyo that likely will include general manager Bill Bavasi.
Kuroda has a history of winning games and piling up innings and has shown interest in all things Seattle – from the team to fellow Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima to the pitcher-friendly dimensions of Safeco Field.
A number of teams have expressed serious interest in Kuroda, including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.
Still, the Mariners history with Japanese players – from Ichiro Suzuki to Kazuhiro Sasaki to Johjima – is an advantage with free agents eager to test major league baseball for the first time.
And Kuroda, who has a 103-89 career record in Japan, has said a West Coast team would keep him as close to Japan as possible.
With starting pitching their most obvious off-season need, the Mariners focused on Kuroda early on, and that’s no surprise. In a shorter Japanese season, Kuroda has pitched 212, 189 and 179 innings in the past three seasons while going 40-26.
Walking away from the final three years and $7.5 million of his Japanese contract, Kuroda won’t come cheap – sources say he’s seeking three to four years and about $11 million per season, but those figures may well be negotiable.
Initial conversations between the Mariners and Kuroda’s representatives have gone well but remain in the preliminary stages. Still, given the weakness of the U.S. free agent market, Seattle is intrigued enough to consider flying to Tokyo for further contract talks.
Scouts say Kuroda has a 96 mph fastball, a slider and forkball – and last season completed seven games in 26 starts.
Kuroda also has an athletic background: his father was a professional outfielder and his mother competed in the 1964 Olympics as a shot putter.