Rotation would take big hit if Yankees don't sign Hiroki Kuroda

Hiroki Kuroda walks back to the dugout after Hiroki Kuroda walks back to the dugout after the top of the first inning of Game 2 of the ALCS. (Oct. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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It's not that the Yankees lack a Plan B if they don't get Hiroki Kuroda back.

It's just the alternatives if the 37-year-old pitches elsewhere next season don't look especially good.

"The starting pitching has to get taken care of first," one team official said.

When it comes to what's on the market, "you're not going to get anyone better than Kuroda for the [number] two or three," the official added.

It would be an overstatement to say the Yankees are scared to death if they don't end up with Kuroda, who hasn't decided whether he wants to pitch in the United States or in his native Japan in 2013.

But not by much.

One opposing team executive, asked during last week's GM meetings for a one-word characterization of a Yankees' rotation without Kuroda, responded, "Awful."

He did say, however, that its prospects obviously would improve greatly if Andy Pettitte chooses to return.

Still, the rotation behind CC Sabathia fills out with Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, David Phelps and, likely, Adam Warren.

The Yankees almost certainly wouldn't go into next season with that quintet and the prevailing thought is Pettitte ultimately will decide to pitch next season. GM Brian Cashman said Monday night there was still nothing new on that front.

But it does show the importance of getting Kuroda, who went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA last season and was the club's most consistent starter.

The club continues to believe if Kuroda decides to pitch in the U.S., it has the best chance of signing him. One person with knowledge of the pitcher's thinking said he enjoyed his year in New York and especially liked working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

But there are concerns.

One, the pull of Japan is very real. Kuroda, having proven on both coasts he can pitch at the highest level, has a desire to finish his career in Japan at or close to peak form.

Then there are the Dodgers, with whom Kuroda pitched from 2008-2011. They want the righthander back and their ownership group is spending freely.

Another example of the Dodgers' philosophy came during the weekend when they bid $25.7 million for a chance to sign Korean lefthander Ryu Hyun-jin.

The teams most aggressively pursuing Ryu, according to a scout based in Korea, were the Dodgers, Rangers, Cubs, Indians, Blue Jays and Twins. The Yankees, previously so active in the pursuit of Pacific Rim players, didn't scout Ryu. One person familiar with the team's thinking said the Yankees have all but lost their appetite for unproven talent since throwing away about $46 million on Kei Igawa six years ago.

The Red Sox are among the other teams having expressed an interest in Kuroda, though few think at this stage of his career the pitcher would want the kind of uncertainty surrounding the Boston franchise.

For his part, Cashman doesn't subscribe to a sky-is-falling perspective if Kuroda ends up somewhere other than the Bronx.

"He is somebody I would like to have back without a doubt but you walk through the process," Cashman said. "I'd love to have him back, you know what he's capable of and how he fits, but 2013 is a new year altogether, but who knows. I'd feel real comfortable with him but if not, we'll find somebody else and hopefully feel really good about that somebody."

Notes & quotes: Cashman said he's had "limited conversations" so far with Mariano Rivera's agent, Fern Cuza, who is currently out of the country, on a new deal . . . The Yankees, one insider said, remain high on Torii Hunter but believe financially the outfielder likely will be out of reach.

With David Lennon

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