- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Yankees' best starting pitcher in 2012 will be back with the club for 2013.
Hiroki Kuroda, who went 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in his first season in the American League, signed a one-year deal Tuesday night to return to the Yankees next season.
The contract is worth $15 million, plus incentives that are worth less than $1 million, sources told ESPN.
"I am very happy and excited to re-sign with the Yankees," said Kuroda in a release. "I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me. It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season."
Kuroda, 37, led the team in innings pitched (219 2/3), shared the team lead in victories with Phil Hughes, and his ERA was lower than that of any other starter other than Andy Pettitte, who appeared in just 12 games. Also, Kuroda did all of it with the lowest run support of any Yankees' starter. Kuroda pitched in two postseason games, going 0-1 with a 2.81 ERA.
"I thought Hiroki did a phenomenal job for us last year, and we had a strong preference," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on a conference call Tuesday night. "He's a pro."
ESPNLosAngeles.com reported that Kuroda drew interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he had pitched his four previous major league seasons, as well as offers to return to Japan, where he pitched 11 seasons for the Hiroshima Karp.
"The guy has proven everything over here," Cashman said. "He pitched successfully in the National League. He came over to the American League East and pitched successfully over here. He pitched on short rest. He pitched successfully in the postseason. I'm not sure what else he has to prove to anybody in any league. We were hoping he'd pick us and thankfully he did."
The Yankees had made a $13.3 million qualifying offer to Kuroda when he became a free agent after the conclusion of the World Series, but the offer was rejected, and there was talk Kuroda preferred either to return to Japan or to the Dodgers, near where his wife and children live in southern California. Cashman said he suspected Kuroda could have had a multiyear deal with another club but chose to return to the Yankees.
"I think by coming here he left some money on the table," Cashman said. "I think it's a reflection of he really enjoyed playing here, in this city, for this team, for this organization and with these teammates to come back under the circumstances he's coming back under. And we stretched, too, to make it happen."
According to agents and clubs with knowledge of the talks, the Yankees were the only club Kuroda would have signed with if he stayed in the U.S. and put off a return to Japan.
Kuroda figures to be the Yankees' nominal No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia, who is coming off elbow surgery to remove a bone spur. The Yankees are also waiting on a decision from Pettitte, who is undecided about whether he will return to play in 2013, but the signing of Kuroda gives them five starters -- they also have Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps -- which could free Cashman up to pursue some of his club's other needs, namely a right-fielder, a catcher and a closer.
The Yankees are expected to re-sign Mariano Rivera to close and are pursuing a new contract with catcher Russell Martin, but Cashman said he had nothing to report on either situation, citing new rules in baseball's basic agreement prohibiting GMs from discussing potential free-agent signings in the media.
"It's not in my best interest and I think that also probably violates the basic agreement guidelines if I start prioritizing and expressing to the marketplace what area I'm focusing on," said Cashman.
He did say, however, that even with the Hal Steinbrenner-imposed $189 million salary cap looming for the 2014 season, "We're capable of a lot of different things and we certainly have strong preferences. But we will communicate those directly to the agents."
The signing of Kuroda, however, is a major step toward retaining the Yankees' starting rotation, which was one of the strongest units on the team that won 95 games and finished atop the AL East before collapsing in the postseason.
"It's a relief to know Hiroki is back," Cashman said. "It gives us a valuable arm to the rotation. As long as he can stay healthy we feel like we know what we're going to get. I have a list of things to accomplish and this goes into the accomplished category."
Information from ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark and ESPNLosAngeles.com's Mark Saxon was used in this report.
3hJacob Nitzberg, ESPN Stats & Information
19hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com