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My new suspicion: Hiroki Kuroda is gone after this season

Photo: Hiroki Kuroda. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.
Suspicious? If not, why not? And if not, what does it mean for the future?

Me? I’m suspicious, but then that’s become my nature. Too many years in the journalistic trenches.

Hiroki Kuroda refused to waive his no-trade clause to stay faithful to his original decision to play for the Dodgers.

It was not about loyalty -- the Dodgers wanted to trade him. His team wanted to deal him to get prospects in return and unload some salary.

And he said no. Said rather than join a team contending for a playoff spot, he wanted to complete his contract with the Dodgers. Difficult to understand.

Some say it’s a cultural thing, which is where I initially became suspicious. They never trade players in Japan? They remain committed to an employer that wants to move them?

The initial suspicion was Kuroda was hiding behind a convenient cultural divide, when all he really wanted was to remain in Los Angeles where he and his family felt comfortable.

But Kuroda told The Times’ Dylan Hernandez it was more about being true to himself, to personal commitment.

"I wanted that feeling to remain important to me," Kuroda said. "I think your self-identity is defined by certain decisions you make. If you go back on them, you lose a sense of who you are."

This makes for a keenly focused, very rigid individual. Which leads me to this conclusion:

Kuroda is not coming back to the Dodgers next season.

He’s going back to pitch for Hiroshima Carp. That’s where it all began for him, where they are waiting in anticipation of his return. And he absolutely knows it.

It’s hard to understate how huge, how important Kuroda is to Hiroshima. He played there for 11 years and never once made the playoffs. The Carp hasn’t won a title since 1991. Haven’t finished higher than third since the year 2000.

He was their greatest, most beloved player. So much so, that even when he was eligible to come to the major leagues after 10 seasons, he stayed for one additional year because the fans begged him to.

Kuroda will be 37 next season. He’s running out of time to return, and he feels the obligation.

Someone so inflexible as to not join a contender because he felt committed to fulfill his contract is not going to turn his back on an entire city.

Which means next year, the Dodgers can count on a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and … come on down!

Because all original suspicions put to rest, I think Kuroda is gone.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Hiroki Kuroda. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.

 
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