The Detroit Tigers and Rick Porcello trade rumors are likely to crank into overdrive in the coming weeks. It’s kind of becoming the Tigers equivalent of what the Diamondbacks experienced with Justin Upton. The elongated nature of Upton’s trade talks probably won’t replicate in Detroit but Porcello’s name has been a hot topic ever since the Tigers overpaid for the return of Anibal Sanchez.
The end result of all of those Upton talks? He was traded. It’s very possible that Porcello will face a similar fate, and soon.
Several teams were on hand to witness his brilliant 4-inning start yesterday against the Astros. Kudos to the Tigers for making sure he got the start against the worst team in the big leagues. In spite of that advantage, Porcello looked better than ever.
He was only supposed to pitch 3 innings on Monday but was so efficient, and effective, that Leyland gave him a 4th inning in which he nearly struck out the side. I’m sure the bevy of scouts in attendance were grateful for the extra peek.
Porcello had it all working yesterday. The swing-back fastball, the diving sinker, a solid changeup, and (sound the trumpets) a really nice curveball. The one piece missing from the 24-year old’s repertoire over his first four seasons has been a solid breaking ball. This offseason he scrapped the flat slider he was battling in favor of the curve. So far, so good. And if he can work that pitch all season like he did yesterday, then this is a different pitcher folks.
Which brings us back to the trade talks. How heart-dropping would it be to see the Tigers finally move this guy on the brink of him figuring it out and taking that once expected step toward stardom?
Detroit is rolling with a starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and either Porcello or Drew Smyly. Both of the latter two have looked outstanding so far in spring training. Smyly is a lefty, which gives him an edge. Smyly has also been nothing short of an overachiever since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 amateur draft by the Tigers. He followed up his run as 2011 Tigers minor league pitcher of the year with a strong rookie campaign.
Some have hinted (including me) that the Tigers could look at Porcello as a Jim Johnson-type of closer and give Smyly the 5th spot. For a player of Porcello’s pedigree, a bullpen role other than closer might be considered a slap in the face and a career de-railer. Detroit will tread very carefully before making such a shift. With Bruce Rondon’s spring struggles being well-documented at this point, the Porcello-as-closer rumors are likely to gain steam.
One team in attendance for Monday’s Tigers game was the Texas Rangers. They’ve been indirectly linked to the Tigers’ quest to move the right-hander for a few months now. Consider the link now direct.
A reason why the Rangers seem like a good trade partner is because they have a lot of depth in their middle infield. 20-year old phenom Jurickson Profar is banging on the door but has nowhere to play thanks to Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler occupying his potential spots on the field. A huge camp by Profar might incline the Rangers (who just lost likely #5 starter Martin Perez to a broken arm) to ship Andrus to a team in need of a shortstop who likewise has a proven pitcher to trade away, ala the Tigers.
An Andrus-Porcello based trade would really be a rim-rocker at this point of the spring. Detroit would then have to trade Jhonny Peralta away as he would no longer have a home. The layers of complexity would be steep. Texas, understandably, isn’t dying to trade Andrus when the insurance policy is a 20-year old. If the Tigers don’t move Porcello to the closers role, and nobody from the existing cast of bullpen characters steps up and earns that spot, then it’s conceivable that he would be traded in a package for exactly that, a closer.
We’ve all seen GM Dave Dombrowski make some aggressive roster moves but never this late in the offseason game. Watching him observe Porcello during yesterday’s game had the feel of a GM who knew he had something substantial to offer another team. I don’t think he would trade a pitcher with Porcello’s ability, no matter how sketchy the track record has been, simply for a closer though. Bullpen arms come and go with little annual reliability. Porcello appears to have 10 more years of good baseball left in that right arm.
If hindsight is indeed 20/20, I wonder if Dombrowski would have signed Sanchez had he known Porcello would be this attractive in March. No Anibal Sanchez would have kept $80M in Mike Ilitch’s wallet and further laid this current problem of six starters battling for five spots to rest.
Does Dombrowski risk trading away a player with the oddest combination of youth, experience, a sluggish track record, but gobs of upside for the chance at a monumental defensive upgrade at shortstop or some package involving a closer? Stay tuned to this one as it could get interesting in a hurry.
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