Mariners may sweeten Kuroda deal
Seattle could up offer with fourth year; other rumors shot down
NASHVILLE, Ariz. -- The Mariners could be on the verge of becoming the first MLB organization to offer free-agent right-hander Hiroki Kuroda a four-year contract.
The Mariners, Dodgers and D-backs all have submitted three-year proposals in the $30 million range, but during his Tuesday night briefing with the Seattle-based media, general manager Bill Bavasi hinted that one of the offers on the table for a free agent would soon be increased.
He probably was referring to Kuroda and the potential for the Mariners adding a fourth year to their offer for the Japanese pitcher.
None of the teams courting Kuroda wants to commit more than three years to the 32-year-old hurler who had a 103-89 career record and 3.69 ERA over an 11-year career with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan's Central League. But with the scarcity of quality starting pitching available on the free-agent market this year, and the organizations willing to trade top-quality starters wanting a king's ransom in return, a four-year, $40-something-million offer might be necessary to nab Kuroda.
The Mariners are determined to improve their starting rotation, and Kuroda has been on their radar since he filed for free agency more than a month ago. Bavasi and manager John McLaren spent about a week in Japan last month letting Kuroda know that he would be a perfect fit with the team.
If signed, Kuroda would report to Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., as part of the five-man rotation and a battery with catcher Kenji Johjima, who spent 11 seasons with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.
But the Dodgers have become a serious competitor for Kuroda's services. The National League club decided on Monday night that it would no longer pursue outfielders Andruw Jones or Aaron Rowand and would instead concentrate on Kuroda.
"We're just waiting to see where they're at and what their thoughts are," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said of Kuroda and his agents. "They know we have sincere interest."
All interested organizations have been informed by Kuroda's agents that a decision would not be made this week during the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The game plan apparently is for Stephen Hilliard, one of the two Seattle-based agents representing the pitcher, to talk to club officials over the next two days and then present any offers to Kuroda, who could make a decision as early as next week.
While keeping their fingers crossed that the additional year will seal a deal with Kuroda, Bavasi continues to discuss potential trades that would boost Seattle's rotation. However, the cost is higher than Seattle is willing to pay -- so far. They have, for the time being, dropped out of the Johan Santana sweepstakes and were scheduled to meet with the Orioles on Tuesday, presumably to discuss a trade that would involve left-hander Erik Bedard.
Bavasi said there were "a little more possibilities" than there were Monday night, "but nothing that would come to fruition tonight. We're in on some things, but nothing is close."
Most of the lobby rumors involving the Mariners are being shot down.
A report in one Seattle newspaper said the Mariners met with the Brewers and discussed a trade involving right-hander Ben Sheets. But Brewers GM Doug Melvin said Sheets' name never was discussed.
A published report in the San Francisco Bay Area had the Mariners and Giants talking about a swap that would bring right-hander Tim Lincecum, who grew up in Bellevue and attended the University of Washington, back to his roots.
The Giants need offense, especially in the middle of the lineup, and Richie Sexson's name was mentioned in the same sentence as Ben Broussard and veteran second baseman Ray Durham.
But Giants GM Brian Sabean emphatically denied the report.
Yet another rumor, which had the Mariners sending Raul Ibanez to the Indians for pitcher Cliff Lee, was shot down by both parties.
On the factual side, the Rangers are known to have interest in Broussard, but are waiting to see if the Mariners offer the first baseman/outfielder a contract for next season. If they don't, Broussard would become a free agent and the Rangers could sign him -- and not lose anyone.
"[Broussard's] name has come up, mostly by us bringing it up," Bavasi said, acknowledging that other teams probably are waiting for the Dec. 12 non-tender deadline, just as they did a year ago. The Mariners offered Broussard a contract back then, but haven't said what they'll do this time.
Second base also was a focal point on Tuesday, but mostly from a backup standpoint.
"We would prefer making [Jose Lopez] the second baseman we know he can be," Bavasi said.
Lopez, an All-Star in 2006, slumped badly the second half of that season and much of '07, as his mind seemed to wander at the most inopportune times. His focus in the field has been a concern.
Also on Tuesday, former Mariners third-base coach Carlos Garcia said he has been hired by the Pirates as the roving Minor League infield coach. Of the four coaches not retained by manager McLaren at the end of last season, only bullpen coach Jim Slaton remains unemployed.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.