Lynn Henning’s piece on Dave Dombrowski’s most recent press conference definitely gives one the impression that the Tigers are looking to deal Rick Porcello just as soon as they find the right deal (though they haven’t found it yet). I continue to hope against the odds that what I’m reading is more Henning’s spin than it is Dombrowski’s plans revealed. The case for trading Porcello is easy to grasp: can do without him, can get something for him. The case against trading Porcello should be just as easy to grasp: can’t really do without him, can’t really get much for him.
I’m not sure most baseball fans really understand the likelihood of injury for starting pitchers: on average a team is going to need in the neighborhood of 30 starts from guys not among their original big five. Those 30 starts could be a slight downgrade, or unexpectedly solid or so atrocious that they torpedo playoff hopes. Though they are completely different pitchers, I would actually expect fairly similar innings, wins and runs numbers from Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly as the Tigers 5th starter. If Porcello is held, Smyly would start in AAA until needed and be the guy to fill in – probably with something in the neighborhood of league average production. If Porcello is dealt Casey Crosby would be that guy and we would be in for a repeat of last year’s (very short) Crosby outings. This looks like it’s going to be the weakest Toledo rotation, on paper, in a while… Jacob Turner is gone, Andrew Oliver is gone – even Adam Wilk is gone. Erie’s rotation in 2012 was awfully uninspiring. It has been some time since we expected Toledo’s rotation to open the year without a single starter who had actually excelled in the minors the year before. Usually they have had a highly touted prospect that we were eager to see in action (but didn’t have room for). The closest thing we’ve got to that for 2013 will be Crosby with his 4.01 ERA and boatload of walks. I had hoped that the Tigers would be pursuing a minor-league free agent or two to fill that void, but so far I have heard nothing.
As for what he can fetch: Rick Porcello is not going to get the Tigers a top-tier infield prospect, not in combination with Boesch or with Peralta. A lot of teams would like to give him 30 starts, but nobody is going to sell off the farm to get him. At least not now. And that is probably the big reason that Porcello remains a Tiger as of January 7. One important rule in trading, whatever you are trading, will be known (in theory) to just about everyone out there: SELL HIGH. Porcello is not coming off a blockbuster year – he is coming off something of a stinker. The only reason that he could get a tangible asset (though nothing so valuable as a long-term replacement for Jhonny Peralta) in return right now is that teams like his increased velocity and wonder if the Tigers bad infield D is to blame for his bad season (so a change of pace would do him good). Trading Porcello away right now would be a little like dumping a stock because you’re worried something is going to be announced that will wipe out any last glimmers of hope. I don’t think things are quite so grim: I think Porcello will benefit from better luck, better outfield D and learning to pitch with better stuff even if he doesn’t go anywhere. As such, I’d expect him to have more value in July (or November) than he has now in January.
Here’s the irony: (well, probably not real “irony” for those of you who are picky about English) the only Tiger starter who could really be sold “high” is Justin Verlander, who I am sure would come last on most fans’ lists of which of the 6 should be dealt. Simply put, all his risks are on the downside and the Tigers are going to have a hell of a time affording him after 2014. 2 years remaining on a fair contract for THE best pitcher in the game would be enough to get the Tigers a big return.
Perhaps Dombrowksi will, ultimately, find the right partner and make the right deal to part ways with Rick Porcello. Perhaps he’ll wait things out until somebody has shoulder stiffness in spring training and their GM shows a sudden willingness to deal top prospects for Porcello. What I’m concerned about is that ultimately the Tigers are going to wind up dealing him for (hypothetically speaking) one of the Padres’ lefties and then coughing up Nick Castellanos at the deadline to get somebody just like him when somebody else is hurt or ineffective. This is not, after all, a team that can just wait until next year if things aren’t all going their way.