Debating Mitch Williams is sort of like debating the local loudmouth at the bar. It's a no win kind of thing. But the "analyst" for The MLB Network yesterday made a point during the highlight package of the Dodgers - Padres game--a game in which Hiroki Kuroda pitched brilliantly for the Dodgers--of blurting out that he had no respect for guys like Kuroda. Williams' point was that Kuroda settled for staying on a losing team over being traded to a contender. Over the weekend, the news stories indicated that Kuroda had told his agent to inform the Dodgers that he wouldn't accept a trade and would invoke the no-trade clause in his contract.
This writer has to admit that he much the same thought over the weekend as what Mitch Williams blurted out last night. And since that is disturbing, this writer had to take some more time to work it out. In the immortal words of E.M. Forster, "How do I know what I think till I see what I say." The internal debate starts now and you can come along for the ride.
Supporting Mitch Williams:
The goal of any athlete is to compete at the highest level of competition. To get to the top is the aim of every great athlete. By refusing to be traded to a contender, Hiroki Kuroda is settling for less than those highest goals of sports. He has settled for mediocrity when he could have had the ultimate challenges competing in Major League Baseball. Kuroda would rather be a loser than a winner because it is more comfortable.
By refusing to aid the Dodgers in disposing of himself, Kuroda has refused to help the Dodgers retool. Of course, we don't know the kind of packages that were offered for Kuroda, so this could be a moot point. But obviously, the Dodgers were thinking it would be of benefit to the Dodgers to trade Kuroda to a contender. That benefit could just have been cash relief as Kuroda is making $12 million for a team going nowhere.
Hiroki Kuroda had a chance to strengthen his legacy by going to a winning team. Despite some good pitching over the years, Kuroda has a losing record in the majors. He could have at least fought back to .500 for his career and have a legacy that is better than a legacy as a losing pitcher. He could also have bettered his legacy in the post season. Although he is 2-1 in post season starts, his last appearance in the post season was a disastrous appearance against the Phillies in 2009 when he was blown away for six runs while recording only four outs.
The Dodgers made Hiroki Kuroda $35.3 million richer over the years. Doesn't that kind of money give the Kuroda some responsibility to do what is best for the team? Didn't refusing to be traded hurt his employers?
The Argument against Mitch Williams
The Dodgers put that no-trade clause in his contract. It's not Kuroda's fault that the Dodgers gave him control over his own destiny. Kuroda simply chose the option that the Dodgers gave him. That's the American Way, isn't it? A man has a right to choose his own course in life? How different this is than in the old days when Curt Flood had to go to court because he was "owned" by his team and had no choices in his destiny.
The Dodgers are still playing major league games. In other words, Hiroki Kuroda is still competing against the best players in the world. That still fits the sporting idea that the true athletic ideal is to compete at the highest level and try to win. He is still going to pitch against the Giants and the Diamondbacks and can still have an impact on those teams' efforts to get into the playoffs. It's not like Kuroda is pitching in the minors or something.
This is the old "ambition versus pursuit of happiness" debate. Which is better in life, to have blind ambition at the expense of personal happiness or to instead choose to be comfortable and happy? Isn't this the inner debate of George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life? Doesn't Henry Potter represent the ugliness of blind ambition? Hiroki Kuroda likes pitching for the Dodgers. He's comfortable there. He's happy there. His team is like his family and he chose family over ambition.
We call out players like Kuroda and yet call players who bounce from team to team mercenaries. Cliff Lee was a mercenary. Manny Ramirez became a mercenary. That word has a negative connotation that means the opposite of loyalty. Kuroda felt loyalty to his teammates and wanted to continue to pitch with them.
Kuroda has earned every penny that the Dodgers have paid him. His performance to date has been worth $51.6 million to the Dodgers since he joined them in 2008 (according to FanGraphs). During that time, Kuroda has earned $35.3 from the Dodgers. This writer would say that the Dodgers got what they paid for and much more.
Hiroki Kuroda was within his rights to choose to stay with the Dodgers. The Dodgers gave him that clause in his contract and Kuroda had every right to invoke that clause when push came to shove. While history will not favor Kuroda for his win-loss record playing for a sub-par team for the last couple of years, those who love to dig deep into the game will know that he pitched well for the Dodgers and was worth every penny they paid him.
While it would have been nice to see the Dodgers aided by a trade and for fans to see what Kuroda could do for a contender, the bottom line is that Hiroki Kuroda was afforded a choice and chose the course that was best for his life. Who can argue that? Ballplayers have a macho code and perhaps Kuroda didn't live up that macho code. But that same code makes pitchers go to the mound when they are clearly injured, so it's not always a reliable way of life. This writer believes that Mitch Williams was out of line. Williams is entitled to his opinion, but should take care in tarnishing a guy unfairly.