This upcoming free agent pitching class is obviously highlighted by Cliff Lee, but it lost a little luster when Josh Beckett and Tim Hudson signed contract extensions. There's still another high-end pitcher available for teams looking to improve the front of their rotation, however. Dodgers' righthander Hiroki Kuroda is in the final season of the three-year, $35.3MM contract he signed with the team before the 2008 season, and will be able to pawn his services off to the highest bidder this winter.
Kuroda, 35, is wrapping up his finest season in the Major Leagues even if his 10-13 record suggests otherwise. In 182 innings spread across 29 starts, he's posted a 3.36 ERA with 2.3 BB/9 and a career best 7.4 K/9. Through 482.2 big league innings, he owns a rock solid 3.60 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9, which is the kind of performance any team would love to add to their rotation.
The one real negative is Kuroda's health track record. He missed close to three weeks with shoulder tendinitis in 2008 then almost two months with an oblique strain last season. A concussion suffered when he was struck by a batted ball took away another three weeks of his 2009 season, but that's a fluke occurrence and we shouldn't count it against his durability. The good news is that Kuroda has skated through the 2010 season healthy and without any significant medical issues.
Even though he has just three years of service time after spending most of his career in Japan, Kuroda can become a free agent through a courtesy that MLB extends to Japanese veterans. He currently projects as a Type-B free agent, though it's far from a given that the Dodgers will offer him arbitration given their uncertain financial state and his $13MM salary this year. While he might not command that kind of annual salary on the open market, there's really no reason Kuroda should have to settle for less than the three-year, $29.75MM deal that former Dodger Randy Wolf signed last winter.