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Sweeny: Breaking Down Kuroda, The Yankees’ Rotation And Potential Outfield Help

Hiroki Kuroda (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Hiroki Kuroda (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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By Sweeny Murti
» More Columns

There was a point in the last week where it may have seemed that Hiroki Kuroda was going to pitch elsewhere in 2013.

Los Angeles, Japan, somewhere other than New York. If that had happened, it would have sent some panic waves through Yankees fans, who perhaps would struggle to swallow an extra helping of turkey or pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day.

Eat without worry, my friends. Kuroda is indeed coming back to the Yankees in 2013. Here is what general manager Brian Cashman had to say about the Japanese right-hander, who, surprisingly, was the Yankees’ best and most consistent starter in 2012:

“Hiroki did a phenomenal job for us last year and we had a strong preference of retaining him. I suspect it was a very aggressive market for him, it should have been. We feel fortunate that we were able to acquire him last year, and I feel the same way this year. He can play a really important role here as he did last year. He’s a pro. He did everything on the field, and had a seamless transition to New York and our clubhouse off the field.”

Cashman said that the Yankees feel as if they have a competitive rotation right now, but they’re always looking to add to it.

“The pitching is our priority and has been our priority, so we will continue on those efforts,” Cashman said. “But right now on paper we do have five starters. You’ve got CC (Sabathia), Kuroda, (Phil) Hughes, (Ivan) Nova, (David) Phelps. But we certainly would like to add to that, lengthen it, deepen it and strengthen it.”

OK, first of all he’s obviously not counting Andy Pettitte yet, even if the rest of us are. There was every indication given by Pettitte at season’s end that he wanted to pitch again — he just hasn’t made that decision public yet. When he does, he will be a Yankee and will be part of the rotation.

“Andy is deciding whether he wants to play,” Cashman said. “As of right now he hasn’t put himself in play, so there is really nothing to discuss at this point until he goes through that process.”

As I mentioned, there is no reason at this point to think that Pettitte will not be back, so let’s jump off that bridge again when we get there.

As for Nova, his season was a disappointment, but there is still too much potential there to ignore. The plan to rebuild his confidence appears to be under way.

“I feel really good about Nova,” Cashman said. “Has a good young arm … This year, (it was) sophomore growing pains or whatever you want to call it. But at the same time his strikeout total soared and his walk total even reduced. It was an interesting year for him. His stuff is there. He’s a good, young, under control, not even arbitration-eligible starter with a boatload of experience both positive and negative.

“I would without a doubt consider Nova a rotation starter in the Majors … The equipment is there, the determination is there.”

Nova will have to earn his spot in the spring, but there is nothing wrong with that. I’m sure he will be pushed by Phelps, with another down-to-the-last-days-of-spring competition.

A pitcher that the Yankees might have as a starter for them later in the season, but not at the beginning, is Michael Pineda. As he rehabs from shoulder surgery, Pineda is a pitcher that Cashman said will not be ready for game action until May or June, and even then it could be in the Minor Leagues. But at some point he will be part of the Yankees’ rotation, and has begun positive steps in his rehab.

Pineda threw on flat ground at Yankee Stadium about a week or 10 days ago, according to Cashman, who said that Pineda looked “very healthy, very loose.” Cashman also remarked that Pineda showed up in good shape in terms of body weight and had some “zip” on the ball, but had “a lot more hurdles in the rehab process to clear.”

Mariano Rivera would be the next easy sign for the Yankees, or should be anyway. All Cashman would say about Rivera is, “I can confirm that we are talking to him, but I have nothing to report.”

It is my understanding that the Yankees don’t feel this will be a difficult negotiation. They want him back and he wants to come back. The rest is just details. However, like any negotiation, it does take some time. As for Rivera’s health, Cashman said that there are no concerns with the knee and Rivera’s ability to be ready when the season begins, unless there is a setback.

Along the same lines, Cashman said he believes that Derek Jeter will be ready by Opening Day, even if it means going a little slower in Spring Training. While he will surely be looking at backup options, the Yankees do still have Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez, both of whom would be fine as temporary fill-ins should anything out of the ordinary keep Jeter out a little longer in the spring.

I recall a quad injury that Jeter suffered in the spring of 2001. He started that season on the disabled list and missed only a handful of games with Luis Sojo as the starting shortstop. The Yankees can survive if Jeter is a week or two behind, but for now we are being told that he will be on track to play when the season begins.

The Yankees will be looking for outfield help, trying to replace free-agent Nick Swisher. Torii Hunter was an interesting target, however he signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers last week. That was probably too rich for the current Yankees mindset, but nonetheless it’s a player that Cashman acknowledged some interest in.

“We never were in a negotiation with Torii Hunter; he is a quality guy that would have fit the bill as a player for us,” Cashman said, referring to Hunter’s skills in the outfield, his ability to hit left-handed pitching and his clubhouse presence.

However, Cashman believed that Hunter engaged quickly with the Tigers and no one else, and thinks it is a quality pickup for the defending American League champions.

As for the team making all the headlines this winter, the Toronto Blue Jays, Cashman was very complimentary.

“They’ve been very aggressive,” Cashman said. “I know the sleeping giant that exists up there … (It’s) a great baseball town, huge amount of success in the past … Last year wasn’t a true reflection of how good they could have been because they got derailed by injuries and unexpected underperformance, and that happens in this sport of baseball. So last year they were better than what they showed on the field, and I think their additions are certainly going to serve them extremely well. They’ve been on the map as far as we’re concerned.”

Happy Thanksgiving … and watch out for falling turkeys.

Did the Yankees overpay for Kuroda, or was $15 million a fair price? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…