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Is Hiroki Kuroda the best starting pitcher available?

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda throws

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda throws to the plate during the first inning. (July 6, 2011) Credit: AP

Check out Hiroki Kuroda's numbers since becoming a major-leaguer in 2008. The dude is a metronome. He's quite reliable for what he is.

But what is he? If you were running the Yankees and you acquired Kuroda, where would you slot him in your playoff starting rotation? How would his stuff play in the American League?

These are questions worth asking because Kuroda might wind up being the best starting pitcher traded. Assuming, that is, he's willing to waive his no-trade clause. A person in the loop told me Monday night that Kuroda is "mulling it over," although as far as we know, the Dodgers don't have a completed trade yet.

I don't see Tampa Bay trading James Shields. I think a trade of Ubaldo Jimenez  by Colorado is more likely, but hardly a lock. There's a public-relations component for the Rockies, all the more so now that Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd has said he'd swap Jimenez only in a "Herschel Walker-type deal."

There's no PR component with the Dodgers and Kuroda, as there's very little "public" left in Chavez Ravine thanks to Frank McCourt's shenanigans. Kuroda, 36, can become a free agent after this year. He's not an essential part of the club's future.

He'd bring back a decent return because of the need for pitching out there. The Tigers, Indians and Rangers are most interested in Kuroda, Ken Rosenthal reported Monday.

Which brings us back to the central issue: Exactly what would an acquiring club, particularly one in the AL, get with Kuroda? If you look at his FanGraphs page, you can see some trending, albeit small-sampled, the wrong way. His line-drive percentage is up this year, from 16.8 percent to 20.7 percent, and his batting average on balls in play (.283) indicates that he has benefited from some good luck. 

Interestingly, he's throwing his fastball, curveball and split-fingered fastball more this year, and his slider less, and his fastball velocity is down slightly (from 92.3 mph to 91.8 mph).

Where would the Yankees slot him? Perhaps as high as third, depending on how A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes do the rest of the way. Perhaps as low as long reliever, depending on the same guys (and this is assuming that Bartolo Colon stays healthy).

The Yankees, as well as the other teams looking for pitching, wish there was someone out there they could realistically acquire and confidently slide right into that Game 2 starter spot. Right now, however, that person doesn't appear to exist. But we still have over 120 hours to go.

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