If Hiroki Kuroda's strong start becomes a strong season, as the numbers suggest it can, he may become one of baseball's most coveted free agent starters this winter.
The Japanese righty is quietly off to a strong start in 2010. Seven outings into the season Kuroda's 4-1 record and 2.66 ERA catch the eye, and his peripheral stats suggest he can maintain this kind of production. He's striking out more batters than usual and inducing more grounders. And unlike some pitchers off to hot starts, Kuroda's ERA isn't low because he strands all his baserunners or has an unsustainable home run rate.
Kuroda's age (35) will work against him as a free agent, but he has been relatively durable since joining the Dodgers in 2008. He made 31 starts in his rookie season, but missed some time last year with an oblique injury. He also missed time after getting hit in the head with a line drive, but you can't hold that against him.
Kuroda's three year $35.3MM deal expires after the season, and he'll hit free agency alongside Cliff Lee, Javier Vazquez and the rest of this winter's class. Vazquez is off to a slow start, Lee missed most of April and Brandon Webb has yet to pitch at all. Given Kuroda's age, it's hard to imagine a team committing to him long-term, but it's not hard to imagine Kuroda drawing interest from ten clubs this winter.