Listen to Bill Bavasi talk for any longer than 15 seconds, and he will mention that the Mariners need starting pitching at least once, if not two or three times, in that span. After watching Jeff Weaver (63) and Horacio Ramirez (55) trot to the mound for a whole season, it would be hard to find anyone who would disagree with him. Both Ryan Rowland-Smith (71) and Brandon Morrow (75) are being sent to winter ball to stretch out and get some starting experience, and in addition to that duo the M's have Cha Seung Baek (73) and Ryan Feierabend (64) as in-house candidates. The group of potential replacements is not overwhelming, but it is not as if Weaver and Ho-Ram were either.
Apparently, the in-house options do not satisfy Bavasi, and he has set his eyes on the best Japanese pitcher available this year, Hiroki Kuroda (72). According to scouting reports, Kuroda primarily features a fastball that goes into the mid-90s and a sharp, biting slider that some believe is even better than Dice-K's. On top of that, Kuroda has a long track record of success in Japan, and overall the general consensus is that he translates into a number three starter in the major leagues. Bavasi must believe that Kuroda is easily the best free agent starter available, because he traveled to Japan with John McLaren this week to meet face to face and negotiate with him. Though several teams have expressed interest in Kuroda, the Mariners should have an edge because he says he wants to play on the west coast, and in particular likes the idea of having Kenji Johjima catching him. At this point there seems to be a high level of mutual interest between the two, and I would expect to see Kuroda officially sign with the Mariners in the next week or two. It is generally believed he will receive a contract worth at least $10 million annually for a minimum of four years.
I think the Mariners are on the verge of overpaying for another mediocre starter. I like Kuroda, but he is not quite as good as most believe. He is at the top of this year's free agent pitching crop, but all that says is that he is as good as Carlos Silva (75) and Kyle Lohse (73). Looking at Kuroda's Japanese numbers, he was nowhere near as good as Daisuke Matsuzaka (85), or even as good as some less successful Japanese players, namely Kei Igawa (64), Kazuhisa Ishii, and Hideki Irabu. I am not opposed to signing Kuroda, because he would be a solid addition to the Mariners rotation. However, I am opposed for signing him to a 4 year, $40 million deal. He is worth about $5 million annually in my estimation, and given that he is 32 years old, I would not offer him much beyond 3 years, $15 million. Simply put, I doubt the Mariners crossed the Pacific Ocean for a guy they think is worth 3 years, $15 million.
Clearly, Bavasi is scared to have two unproven starters in the 2008 rotation. However, there is reason to believe that the M's already have guys that can get the job done, or at least get the job done as well as anyone available on the free agent market. Since the Mariners have shown little interest in Silva or Lohse, I get the feeling that they understand that neither would improve the team. So, they must see Hiroki Kuroda as something much better, like a number three starter at worst with the chance to be a number two. Bavasi has overestimated pitchers in the past (look no further than Washburn and Batista), and it looks like he is well on his way to doing that again.