That the Detroit Tigers have been shopping Rick Porcello this off-season is no secret.
The 24-year-old righty, the Tigers’ No. 5 pitcher in a six-deep rotation that sees Drew Smyly hot on his heels for a starting spot, recently avoided arbitration with the team by signing a one-year deal that will see him get a $2 million pay raise to $5.1.
He only stands to get more expensive from there. With Justin Verlander‘s impending free agency looming in 2015, the team is looking now to keep their payroll under control, even if that means trading a promising pitcher like Porcello and slotting the less-established Smyly in his place.
But why Porcello and not Smyly? Well, despite the fact that the former has been a 2.5+ fWAR pitcher in each of the last two seasons, the righty’s pitching profile is one that does not fit in with the rest of the Tigers’ staff. Unlike everyone else on the team’s starting rotation, Porcello is a ground ball pitcher that uses his heavy sinker to generate ground contact, something he’s done at a AL-leading pace – his 2.36 GB/FB ratio is the highest among AL starters in 2012.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much – not with the Tigers relatively weak infield defense.
That Porcello’s success may always be tied to how good the defense is behind him, as opposed to his ability to get batters out with the strikeout, is one of the reasons why the Tigers want to trade him, as the team may never get the full value out of the young man’s skill set.
But if there’s a team that could turn ground ball pitchers into stars, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals.
Just ask Jake Westbrook, who is just one disciple of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan‘s school of magic, and who revived his once-flagging career to become an effective starter with a ground ball approach.
Like Westbrook, Porcello is also someone who uses his fastball more than 60 percent of the time, except for a couple of noticeable differences: one, he is a young pitcher entering his prime in a couple of seasons, and two, he throws significantly harder, with a fastball that averaged 92.0 mph in 2012 compared to Westbrook’s 90.6.
All of which is to say that Porcello has the upside to be a star yet, and the Cardinals may just be the best spot for him to succeed.
If St. Louis does make the move to inquire about Porcello, it will have to make room on what is currently a six-deep rotation. That said, it’s a six-deep rotation with a number of question marks. The team does not know how Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia‘s shoulders will respond to a full season workload, and there’s still the issue of Lance Lynn‘s significant second-half drop-off (4.32 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) in the second half.
Shelby Miller will be ready to go if one of them goes down, but adding Porcello would give the team a 24-year-old cornerstone arm that fits into their system, and who could be one season away from emerging in the same way Trevor Cahill did earlier in his career.
The Cardinals’ rotation is strong, but stands to be one of the more volatile groups in the big leagues. The pieces of the puzzle might not be lined up just right for them to acquire an available arm like Porcello yet, but it may not take very much before the team is at the point where they would consider making such a move.