One pitcher to keep an eye on this offseason: old friend Hiroki Kuroda.
As the Dodgers hope for the best on the health of Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly, Ned Colletti is faced with the task of strengthening the starting rotation with an ace at the top (Clayon Kershaw), a guy who could be a solid #2 (Josh Beckett), and two guys at the back end (Aaron Harang and Chris Capuno).
With the big dog of the free agency market being Zach Greinke and the huge price tag he'll likely demand, it's Kuroda who could very well be back in play. After spending his first four seasons in LA, Kuroda jumped ship to the Yankees for $12 million last season, going 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
In other words, it typical, steady, effective Kuroda, even against the big boppers on the American League.
Kuroda has stated for a couple years now that he has a desire to eventually go back to Japan to finish his career. The problem, which is more like a good problem, is that he's clearly still a top-tier pitcher, so teams will give him what he wants to stay. The Dodgers couldn't afford him going into last year, but if he's looking for around the same one-year deal as the Yankees gave him, the Dodgers can definitely afford him his time around.
There's a couple obvious concerns about bringing him back in the fold. One is his age. He'll be 38 entering the 2013 campaign. Effective or not, it's hard to ignore he's getting up there. The other is the aforementioned desire to return to Japan. Could he possibly lose his focus pitching in the States if his focus is back home? Probably a stretch that something like that could happen, but still worth wondering about.
Personally, I would love to see him comeback. Suppose he's signed, then the top five would be Kershaw, Beckett, Billingsley, Kuroda, and either Harang or Capuano, with the odd man out heading to the bullpen to play the long relief role and stay ready when called upon to start. I would definitely be a fan of that rotation.
I'm not sure how serious the Dodgers even are about Kuroda, as this is all speculation at this point. You have to think they'll at least engage in conversation with Greinke considering money is no longer an object. I just hope even the deep pockets of Magic and the boys don't overpay for him, as long-term deals for pitchers is risky business. I'd rather see Kuroda come in for a year as the Dodgers continue building their roster.