We don’t yet know for sure that the Detroit Tigers want to trade Rick Porcello, but they now have six capable big league starting pitchers on the roster and it’s assumed that they might look to move one in order to save a few dollars and/or fill an organizational need. Porcello probably has the best combination of dollar-saving potential and return-package potential, so he looks like the most attractive trade chip. At any rate, there are apparently a few teams interested in the soon-to-be 24 year old right hander.
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But, if the Tigers are going to move Porcello, they’d be better served to wait until the season is underway – perhaps closer to the trade deadline.
The organization would lose out on half a year’s worth of salary savings if they held onto him, but teams don’t generally lose out on the return-value by waiting a few months. Teams near contention at the end of July are typically willing to pay a pretty penny to increase their playoff odds a few percentage points.
Waiting would serve two main purposes. First of all, waiting would serve as depth insurance for the first half of the season. If an injury happened to one of the starting pitchers, they would have Drew Smyly available to step into the rotation. He wouldn’t be the equal of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, or Anibal Sanchez – that much is for certain – but you wouldn’t worry about his ability to get the job done like you would should Adam Wilk or Casey Crosby be called into service. And even if the hypothetical injury to one of the other starting pitchers was a season-ending one, the Tigers could simply pull the plug on the trade idea and carry on with minimal (or at least minimized) damage to their playoff hopes.
Secondly, as Chris pointed out on Friday, trading Porcello now would probably mean “selling low”. A full year of Omar Infante (instead of Ryan Raburn) and Torii Hunter (instead of Brennan Boesch) means the Tigers have a better defense than they did last year which could mean better things for Porcello’s BABIP and, more importantly, his ERA. This plan, of course, could backfire should Porcello land on the disabled list or prove ineffective, but his year-over-year improvement and to-date durability show little cause for concern here. It’s a little bit of a gamble, but if Porcello was able to have a strong start to the season, he would likely regain some of the “prospect” status that would normally befit a player of his age.
The biggest reason any of us think Porcello would/should get traded is to shed payroll, but payroll is the obviously not the biggest concern of the organization right now. Yes, even the seemingly infinite Bank Of Ilitch has a limit somewhere, but there’s no way they need the $4-$5 million that Porcello will likely command in arbitration to come off the books immediately. If money was that big of a concern they probably wouldn’t have entered — and won — a last second bidding war for Anibal Sanchez. Porcello still has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining after this upcoming season, so he’ll still have plenty of trade value in six or even 12 months time (excepting a major injury or an unlikely implosion) should they want to pursue the trade avenue in the future.
The Tigers are clearly in win-now mode, so unless they can get a more valuable combination of major league talent in return, there’s really no sense in trading him right now. They could at least afford themselves the luxury of waiting to see how the season — as important of a season as the club’s had in some time, it seems — unfolds before turning the strength of pitching depth into a glaring weakness.