Counting on Kuroda

I'm not, generally speaking, a superstitious person, unless there is a no-hitter or perfect game in progress. I don't worry about breaking mirrors or black cats crossing my path, because, well, superstition is superstition, and in most other cases a Friday the 13th would pass me by without a thought or a care. It's just another day on the Gregorian calendar; the superstition doesn't even exist in certain Gregorian-observing societies. So when, two weeks ago, there was such a date this month, my plans were to observe it by eating takeout pizza and watching Contagion on BluRay while also attempting to work my way through the novel I was reading (and yes, doing all of these things at once; I'm very dextrous).

That peace of mind, unfortunately, only lasted about 30 minutes. Perhaps I should have known better...

In a span of about an hour, the Yankees went from a strangely quiet, maybe-they're-holding-out-until-2012 offseason to the team having the best night of the winter. They bolstered their rotation by trading for one of the game's most promising young starters in Michael Pineda. Minutes later, YES' Jack Curry reported the team reached an agreement with respected veteran Hiroki Kuroda. The total cost for the moves? Ten million, a prospect in Jesus Montero—a tantalizing prospect, to be sure, but a prospect all the same—and Hector Noesi, who had only limited opportunities with the Yankees last season.

Most of the ensuing press has (rightly) focused on the Montero-Pineda trade; it's been years since the Yankees had a position prospect as good as Montero that close to the major leagues, and the return, Pineda and Jose Campos, is promising. On the other hand, Kuroda is not a 23-year-old pitcher or prospect with a 98 mph fastball; yet for roughly the same price as Curtis Granderson, the Yankees might have found one of their most important players for the 2012 season.

Kuroda has had limited chances to pitch against American League teams (indeed, he's only started 11 interleague games), but the jump from the Japanese leagues to the major leagues—one that he's made successfully—is probably a much bigger gulf than going from the National League to the American League (and no matter what we might say about cultural differences between New York and LA, it's still not the same as coming from Japan and adjusting to the United States). Kuroda's injury risk is not negligible (he is entering his age-37 season, after all), but the history is a far cry from those of some of the other pitchers on the market.

Ivan Nova and Pineda both only have about a season's worth of major-league games; with such a short track record it's almost impossible to draw conclusions as to what the Yankees should expect (is Nova's slider for real? What about Pineda's second-half fall off last season?). On the other hand, Kuroda has four years of mostly similar results and no drastic home/road or first-/second-half splits; his reliability should be a bulwark in the rotation if something goes awry with the youngsters.

Over the past 20 years, Yankees history is littered with instances in which a trade not made or a buy-low deal has paid huge dividends even as headline signings have gone awry. Kuroda wasn't the headliner on the 13th; he was the icing on the pitching cake. Unlike Pineda, Kuroda doesn't have his career ahead of him, and his tenure on the Yankees might only be a season long, but, as the saying goes, flags fly forever.

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