Hiroki Kuroda talks about leaving Dodgers, why he chose Yankees
Hiroki Kuroda confirmed what Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said earlier this month: Colletti remained in contact with his agent until he decided to sign with the New York Yankees three weeks ago.
Kuroda said the Dodgers were exploring ways they could fit him onto their roster, even though they had already signed free-agent starters Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano.
“They were unable to ever make a formal offer,” Kuroda said in Japanese. “I couldn’t wait any longer.”
The Japanese right-hander took a one-year $10-million contract with the Yankees that included a full no-trade clause. The deal was officially announced this week.
The reasons behind his exercising a similar clause last year to prevent the Dodgers from trading him to an American League contender –- the Yankees were believed to be among the suitors -– were no longer issues. He wasn’t backing out of a commitment. He wouldn't be joining a team midseason, something he said he thought would take away from the joy of winning.
Asked whether he would have remained with the Dodgers had they made him a reasonable offer, Kuroda said, “It’s hard to talk about something hypothetical. Obviously, I was comfortable there. I liked it there. My family liked it there.”
In fact, Kuroda said his wife and two school-age daughters will remain in Los Angeles while he is in New York next season.
“Part of me is sad to leave Los Angeles,” he said. “I loved the atmosphere of the stadium.”
“Honeycutt helped me adjust to pitching in the major leagues,” he said. “We had a lot of meetings, we talked a lot. I’m very grateful.”
Kuroda, who speaks minimal English, talked about how Kershaw played catch with him on most days.
“He was really nice to me,” Kuroda said.
Kuroda said he received offers from five or six major-league clubs. With the Dodgers out of the picture, he said, he narrowed his choices to two: the Yankees and the Hiroshima Carp of Japan, for whom he pitched for 11 seasons.
Kuroda said he had better financial offers than the one from the Yankees. Kuroda will earn $2 million less than he did last season with the Dodgers.
“They have an incredible tradition,” Kuroda said of the Yankees. “They contend for the championship every year. I wanted to play for a team like that. When you get to my age, you don’t know how much longer you can pitch and I wanted to experience that before my career ended.”
Kuroda has been an underdog his entire career.
Unlike most Japanese stars, he didn’t play for a powerhouse program in high school or college. He never reached the playoffs with the Carp. And in his time with the Dodgers, they spent money like a mid-market team.
He said he liked the idea of sharing a clubhouse with iconic players such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia.
“To be a part of a team like that is something I will be proud of,” he said.
He acknowledged that there would be many changes.
“Of course, there will be pressure,” he said. “But I think that’s part of the challenge. I want to see what I can do.”
He will also be pitching in a new league. He will be in a stacked division with several hitter-friendly parks.
“I’ll be in a new environment,” he said. “I’m sure it will be difficult. But I look at all of that as part of the challenge.”
Asked if his four years in the major leagues provided him with confidence that he could adjust, Kuroda said, “More than being confident, I just think of it as something I’ll have to do.”
He will at least be familiar with a catcher, former Dodger Russell Martin.
“It’s easier to be with a catcher who knows you,” he said.
Kuroda’s interpreter for the last four years, Kenji Nimura, will follow him to the Yankees.
While Kuroda is becoming increasingly comfortable with pitching once every five days -– in Japan, he pitched once a week -– he is also getting older. He turns 37 in February.
He said he will enter this season preparing for it to be his last.
“There will be a lot of change,” he said. ““Not only a baseball player, but also as a person, I think this will be an important year for me.”
-- Dylan Hernandez
Photo: Hiroki Kuroda looks from the dugout before the start of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times