Rick Porcello's future with Tigers in doubt

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

With the (re-)addition of Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers' rotation, is there any room left for Rick Porcello? The answer appears to be "no." But maybe we're asking the wrong question.

With Anibal Sanchez reportedly signing a five-year deal with the Tigers, the top four spots in the team's rotation are locked in through 2014. That leaves just one spot in the rotation for left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Rick Porcello.

Smyly, it is assumed, will be going no where. With five years of team control and being one of the organization's rare left-handed starter s who can pitch well, he's almost certainly going to remain a Tiger.

The other assumption that seems built in is that Detroit will now trade the odd-man out, Porcello. In fact, several National League teams asked the Tigers about him at the Winter Meetings last week, Danny Knobler reported. At the time, Porcello was unavailable. At the time, the Tigers needed him. Now, well, maybe not.

Trading Porcello would make some sense. For one, he never seemed to be a good fit with the organization's view of defense. It's no mistake that his best year was his rookie year, 2009, which was the year the Tigers were in a budget crunch and concentrated on relatively low-cost defense. Adam Everett may not have hit, but he helped make the middle infield a lot better. Porcello does not strike out many batters, so the Tigers low-quality defense makes his job all the harder and his ERA all the higher.

The other issue is that Porcello's nearing the end of his arbitration years. And though he does not have the gaudiest stats, his cost is steadily rising. It's not hard to imagine his 2013 contract passing the $4 million mark. That's a lot of money for a guy coming off a 4.59 ERA season.

Or is that the right way to look at it? Porcello has always seemed like a player on the verge of taking off. His Fielding Independent Pitching stat indicates a player just waiting for luck to align. It's steadily declined from 4.77 in 2009 to 3.91 in 2012. He doesn't walk many, and his strikeout rate has been going up. He's been tabbed as a player to watch (by me as well as by others) in the past. He's like a lottery ticket waiting to be scratched off, and $4 million, relatively speaking, is not that much to pay for it.

It might not be a lot to pay for a little insurance, either. The Tigers' payroll is projected to be around $155 million for the 2013 season. The team's World Series chances are tied to a strong rotation and more run scoring due to the return of Victor Martinez and the addition of Torii Hunter (as well as having Omar Infante at second base for a full season.) Although Porcello's spot in the rotation seems to be at risk, and the temptation might be there to trade him for salary relief (or bullpen help), keeping him around for depth might be the wisest move for the club.

Who, exactly, would the Tigers turn to if a rotation-member was injured? Duane Below? Casey Crosby? Adam Wilk? (Are those guys even Tigers anymore? I'm not even sure!) All have proven in the past they're more than a step below Porcello.

So flipping the question around, can the Tigers afford to trade Porcello? Despite his inability to live up to the hype, his value as a depth piece still might outweigh his cost.

But I think he's gone anyway.

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