Rumors Say Kuroda's Chosen Dodgers

Reports out of Japan indicate that free-agent right-hander Hiroki Kuroda had decided to sign with the Dodgers, however both general manager Ned Colletti and Asian operations director Acey Kohrogi reported they had no such knowledge. But Kuroda reportedly boarded a flight in Tokyo on Tuesday that was due to arrive in Los Angeles sometime Wednesday.

Plans for what would have been a recruiting trip (had he been a football recruit) to Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix this week had been cancelled. It wasn't immediately clear whether he plans to visit those other cities while in the United States.

Sources say his choice has been narrowed to the Dodgers and Mariners. Both the Dodgers and Mariners have made three-year offers to Kuroda, who spent the past 11 seasons with the Hiroshima Carp of the Japanese Central League.

Chugoku Shimbun, a Hiroshima-based newspaper, reported that the Dodgers had increased their offer to four years and $40 million, but the club flatly denied that report.

The Mariners' latest offer is believed to be slightly higher ($33 million) than that of the Dodgers (about $30 million). Still, Kuroda reportedly is leaning toward the Dodgers for a variety of reasons. First is a close friendship with Dodgers closer Takashi Saito, and the two are represented in Japan by the same Osaka-based sports agency.

Former major-league reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa, a close advisor to Kuroda, has a home in Orange County. And Los Angeles has a bigger Asian population than Seattle offering Kuroda more endorsement opportunities, possibly with Saito.

If the Dodgers land Kuroda, he would be used somewhere in the middle of a rotation that already includes Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Esteban Loaiza and what club officials hope will be a healthy Jason Schmidt. One of those five would then go to the bullpen or be traded.

Arizona, which offered Kuroda three years and $27 million, apparently is out of the running.

Jones Aces Physical
Center fielder Andruw Jones passed his physical examination, finalizing his two-year, $36.2 million contract with the Dodgers and was introduced to the press at a conference yesterday.

Jones was formally introduced during a news conference Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

?The addition of Jones, a 10-time Gold Glove winner with middle-of-the-order power, will force Juan Pierre to move from center to left if he is not traded, however the Dodgers seem ready to keep all four outfielders.

Jones Clears Physical
That would mean Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp would share time in right field unless one of them is traded for a pitcher. But if Kuroda is indeed ready t choose the Dodgers, that would make a trade for another starter a moot point.

Manager Joe Torre could use the left-handed Ethier and the right-handed Kemp in a straight platoon, leaving whoever doesn't start on a given night as a potent bat off the bench.

The Dodgers are looking for a backup catcher has been sorted out the possibilities Gary Bennett, Damian Miller and this year's backup backstop, Mike Lieberthal.

?Bennett is a career backup who will turn 36 in April, batted .252 while catching 52 games for St. Louis, striking out just 16 times in 155 at-bats. Miller, 38, hit .237 for Milwaukee while catching 56 games in his first year backing up Johnny Estrada after catching at least 97 games each of the previous seven seasons. Lieberthal, who will turn 36 next month, hit .234 while catching 31 games for the Dodgers.

?Torre will utilize All-Star Russell Martin differently than former manager Grady Little -- Martin caught 145 games this season -- and who ever the backup is won't play more than three or four times a month, something Lieberthal seemed OK with for the most part.

Backup catchers aren't cheap.

?The Dodgers declined a $1.5 million option for 2008 on Lieberthal, who made $1.15 million this year. Bennett made $850,000 with the Cardinals, Miller $2.25 million with the Brewers.

Where are Jeff Torborg or Rube Walker when we need them?

Kent Says 'Yes" to 2008

Kent triggered the guaranteed option by making more than 550 plate appearances in 2007, hit .302 with a team-best 20 home runs for the Dodgers last season.

But when the Dodgers dropped out of the NL playoff race, Kent became even crankier than usual, criticizing the younger teammates, saying that they wouldn't take instructions, an unusual statement for a veteran who doesn't talk much to anyone, let along give pointers. Then he hinted that it might be time to walk away.

Kent, the 2000 National League MVP, has a career .290 batting average, 365 home runs (the most by a second baseman in MLB history) and 1,459 RBIs over 16 seasons in the majors.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Free-agent right-hander Rudy Seanez has been offered a one-year contract to return to the Dodgers, according to his agent, David Schwartz, who said the Dodgers are among six to eight teams that have expressed "serious interest" in his client. ...C Paul Lo Duca is set to sign with the Washington Nationals and his batterymate Eric Gagné signed with Milwaukee for a surprising $10 million. ...Infielder Hiram Bocachica will play with the Seibu Lions next season.