Now that the Tigers have re-signed Anibal Sanchez (for what, depending upon who you talk to, is either an absurdly excessive contract or well below fair value) rumor has it they’re looking to deal Rick Porcello. Should they? If so, for whom?
Let’s clarify a few things first… Rick Porcello does have value, so it isn’t as though this would be nothing but a salary dump. Next, though he has trade value (because reliable starters are always scarce and because he has “potential”) he hasn’t actually provided much in the way of real value over his 4 years in the Tigers rotation. He is estimated to cost a team $4.7 million (through arbitration) for 2013 and has 3 years of team control remaining. His salary is fair, maybe a little low, for what he has actually “produced” but trivial relative to what he is capable of producing – of what he would produce if his ERA ever actually matched his xFIP.
The Tigers may have basically given up on Porcello, who has had the ball tattooed all over the field off him despite adding experience and velocity. They may also want to save a little money, now that Sanchez’ contract has pushed payroll above and beyond where we ever thought it could be. But… holding onto him would fill an important remaining need for the Tigers. Two needs, actually, bullpen lefty and 6th starter, since keeping him on the team would allow Drew Smyly to serve as a swingman as opposed to the #5 starter. I personally like the idea of Porcello in relief, but I doubt that such an idea would find many converts in the Tigers front office. There would be risks and costs involved: in addition to that $4.7 million that the Tigers may not want to pay, they wouldn’t have any contribution from whomever the Porcello deal could bring and a poor performance (or injury…) could greatly reduce Porcello’s value.
On the last count, I wouldn’t put too much weight on that – trading Porcello now is probably more likely to be selling low. I don’t think there is any greater cause for “optimism” regarding year-on-year improvement from a pitcher than a ridiculously high BABIP allowed. Porcello had the highest BABIP allowed last year among qualified starters with .344, the highest in 2011 went to Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson who saw drops or 22 and 52 points respectively. 4th in the MLB in BABIP allowed in 2011? Ryan Dempster, who saw a 47 point drop in 2012. 5th highest? Madison Bumgarner, who saw a 46 point drop. The exception to prove the rule would be Derek Lowe (3rd worst), who saw no drop from 2011 to 2012 and more or less flamed out. We shouldn’t just expect him to get hit in 2013 like he got hit in 2012, but at the same time the Tigers prospective trade partners are probably smart enough not to expect that either. So… don’t, don’t sell low on Porcello. He would have significant value to the team if he is not traded, but if somebody makes an offer that blows you away?
And what kind of offer would blow the Tigers away? There’s a tricky one. We’re talking about a guy who does add value to a team desperate to win and win now, damn the cost. The ideal trade – to Tigers’ management and ownership – is probably one that adds equivalent value to the big league roster but does so in the form of players earning league minimum. You’re going to be hearing a lot of rumors regarding veterans paid more than Porcello or prospect packages that would not make an immediate impact in 2013, but I’m skeptical that this would give Tigers’ management at all what they want or need. Unless, of course, they simply don’t want to gamble on Porcello in 2013 themselves. One name I have heard mentioned a number of times already is the Pirates’ closer Joel Hanrahan – but Hanrahan is paid more than Porcello. I can’t see anyone considering that a fair trade for Detroit [though I'd be willing to do a Brennan Boesch & Porcello for Hanrahan & Jose Tabata deal]. We hear that San Diego has interest, though it’s hard to imagine what they would be willing to part with that the Tigers actually want. San Diego is, after all, a team that values productive or potentially productive league-minimum guys more than most teams. One possibility that might be worth looking into would the a trade built around Rick Porcello for Peter Bourjos, now that the Angels have signed Josh Hamilton. Bourjos is not thrilled about limited playing time in LA and would not be thrilled about limited playing time in Detroit, but he’s also ideally suited to playing in Comerica Park and might flat-out beat Andy Dirks for the starting job in left.