So far, the biggest theme of the Yankees’ offseason has been what they won’t be doing. Making multi-year offers to Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano. Signing Torii Hunter. Pursuing the top free agent starting pitchers on the market. Making very many multi-year offers of any kind, and so on. With the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, on the other hand, the Yankees have provided some reassurances that they will, in fact, maintain a solid core of talent in 2013, even as austerity nibbles away at the margins of their roster.
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Somewhat amusingly, this is the second straight year in which the Yankees have re-signed a starting pitcher just prior to Thanksgiving, though I dare say Yankee fans are much happier to have Kuroda returning than they were at the prospect of another go-around with Freddy Garcia last year. Thanks to injuries, Kuroda emerged as the Yankees’ most durable, and perhaps most reliable starting pitcher, in 2012 silencing those who doubted his ability to pitch in the A.L. East while setting a career high in innings pitched. He also became something of a fan favorite, at least within my own circle of reference, and I get the sense that just about everyone was dreading the thought of him not returning for a second season in pinstripes, for reasons both on-field and off.
The upshot of this deal is that the Yankees have shored up their rotation picture with just one move. Without Kuroda and Andy Pettitte in the mix, the Yankees’ projected rotation looked pretty bleak, with Phil Hughes slotted in as the second starter and no clear fifth starter behind David Phelps and Ivan Nova. Between that reality and a thin market for starting pitching in which the Yankees weer total non-players for the top talents other than Kuroda, it’s not at all hard to see why they made re-signing their own star their top offseason priority, and with that squared away the picture going forward is dramatically different. Even without factoring Pettitte in, the Yankees’ rotation now projects as at least respectable, with Kuroda and Sabathia at the top with Hughes, Phelps, and Nova hopefully providing quality back-end caliber production behind them. Put Pettitte in to the mix as well, and you have a championship caliber rotation for day one, with an outside chance of having two of those three back-enders bumped if Michael Pineda can return and be effective.
So that’s where things stand today: with the lynchpin of the team’s winter plans under the belt. There’s still plenty to do, of course. Brian Cashman now needs to figure out who his starting catcher and right fielder will be when Opening Day rolls around, plus work out a contract with Mariano Rivera, but (at least assuming that the latter is a given on a certain level) retaining Kuroda was by far the most important task at hand this winter, and for as much as our focus has been on payroll cuts and all of the players the Yankees won’t be after anytime soon, for now they’re still able to get their #Hirok.