Yesterday, at the Detroit News, Lynn Henning wrote that the “Tigers have options if Rick Porcello is traded”. His point is that if Porcello were moved out of the picture, the Tigers would still have three or four reasonable options to call up to make some starts.
Detroit will have stand-in options, even if fans roll their eyes at the thought of Duane Below, Luke Putkonen, Shawn Hill, Casey Crosby, or Jose Alvarez substituting for one of manager Jim Leyland‘s supposed Fab Five.
He’s not totally wrong, guys like Duane Below, Shawn Hill, and Casey Crosby could fill in as the fifth guy in the rotation on this team and probably they’d probably still roll through the division, but none of those guys are as good of a sixth option as Drew Smyly, and it’s not particularly close in my opinion.
Last season the Tigers needed ten starts from players not named Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, or Drew Smyly. The number of games in which you’ll need your sixth or seventh starter fluctuates from year to year — many teams need more — but ten is probably a reasonable number toward the minimum end.
In those ten starts, Below, Crosby, Adam Wilk, and Jacob Turner combined to post something like -0.6 WAR (if you like fielding independent number) or -1.3 WAR (if you prefer a runs allowed model). You really expect to be able to patch together something that resembles replacement level, but if you’re having to go three or four players deep in your minor league system, you’re not even going to get that. So, if the 2013 Tigers needed to find another 10 starts from their AAA starters, and Drew Smyly wasn’t there for emergency purposes (as Henning suggests), we could expect another season of -1 WAR from these spots starters.
But, if the Tigers were to hang onto Porcello, and Smyly was sent to pitch in AAA to be ready for the call up, the Tigers would be in a much better position. Smyly made 19 starts for the big club in 2012 and posted a 1.7 WAR (1.6 WAR if you prefer RA9). If we expect him to perform similarly this coming season — and we were asking him to make roughly 10 starts — the Tigers would get something like 0.8 wins (above replacement) from him. That’s would translate to something like one or two wins above their other internal options.
Would one or two wins make a big difference for the Tigers in 2013? I think probably not, but you never really know how things will go. And either way, we’ve established something like a baseline for a potential Porcello trade. The reduction in depth would likely cost the team a win or two. If the team is really “all in” for the next couple of years, then there’s no sense in reducing your expected win total in the near future. Back to Henning and his take on Porcello’s return pacakage:
You go with your best five starters if those five are credible big-league craftsmen. You can then trade your excess for help at positions where you’re not as well-equipped. For the Tigers, this could net a blue-chip glove at shortstop, or maybe a pitching prospect in tandem with another outfielder.
What he doesn’t say about the blue-chip glove is that he would either (1) not be able to hit a lick or (2) not be ready for the big leagues for another couple of seasons. Either type of player wouldn’t really help the club win a ring next year. For all of Jhonny Peralta‘s shortcomings defensively, he does bring value to the team with his bat. Finding a defensive-minded shortstop would be a good thing, but if he wasn’t also a decent hitter he would only marginally improve the team. The shortstop-for-Porcello trade breakeven point would mean something like a three WAR shortstop. Three WAR shortstops are extremely valuable; they’re not often acquired for pitchers with a mid-4 career ERA.
I’m not completely opposed to the team dealing Porcello, but there’s no need to do it now. Why not simply wait until the trade deadline when you’ve had half a season to identify holes, or large chunk of time to see if an injury surfaces that creates a more glaring need (perhaps even at pitcher). There’s simply no reason to trade an asset for stuff, when that same asset could be used to fill a real need a few months down the line.