Royals Should Use Bullpen Depth to Trade for Rick Porcello


Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As you surely know by now, the Royals have reportedly made Tim Collins and Aaron Crow “very available” on the trade block. With both players entering arbitration, and having pitchers like Louis Coleman, Will Smith, and Michael Mariot all looking for more innings, it does make sense for the Royals to be interested in shopping those two more prominent relievers of the past few seasons.

And where the Royals have excess depth, their division rival Detroit Tigers are severely lacking. With Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras both being free agents, the Tigers are looking to bolster that bullpen, which was arguably the weakest part of their team in 2013. Reports are that they are already in discussions with Brian Wilson, and while he would help, the Tigers will need more than Wilson and his beard to close out games for their impressive rotation. Speaking of their rotation, Detroit’s front office would like to move Drew Smyly into a starting role in 2014, and Rick Porcello may be ousted to make room for the young lefty.

The Royals have too many relievers, and having another starter wouldn’t hurt.

The Tigers have too many starters, and having another reliever (or two) wouldn’t hurt.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see where I’m going here.

I know I have always said I’m terrible with hypothetical trades, but it seems like a fairly simple exchange for the Royals to send Crow or Collins (or both) along with a prospect to Detroit for Porcello, who is under team control for two more seasons, and is projected to make a little under $8 million in 2014.

The Royals’ current rotation of James Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, Danny Duffy, and Yordano Ventura could be a fine group of starters, if Duffy and Ventura pitch to their potential, and if Shields’ peripherals don’t continue to fall off, and if Guthrie continues his work with magic beans, and if Vargas shows he’s worth his contract. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of having to count on all of those “ifs” occurring at the same time. Sure, it could happen, but the Royals would do well to have another pitcher in the rotation who is a better bet to provide the kind of production they’ll need right off the bat.

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Porcello would be an excellent fit with this outstanding Royals’ defense. He’s a groundball machine, posting a GB% over 50 in each of his 5 major league seasons. In addition to that, Porcello’s strikeout rate spiked in 2013, climbing to 7.22 strikeouts per 9 innings, meaning he was less dependent upon his defense than he had been in previous years. For Porcello, that was a good thing, since the Tigers’ defense behind him was very poor, to put it nicely. Granted, his results still suffered, though not quite as bad as one would expect, thanks to his newfound ability to miss bats. Porcello put up an xFIP of 3.19 (Cy Young winner Max Scherzer had an xFIP of 3.16, for reference) but his ERA was 4.32, due in large part to having such a weak defense behind him. The Tigers have improved their defense by trading away Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler, allowing them to move Miguel Cabrera away from third base, and also by having Jose Iglesias at shortstop for a full season. However, with Smyly seemingly being favored by the organization, Porcello doesn’t appear to have much of a future with the team.

I’m not the first to suggest such a trade, of course. Pinetar Press’ David Lesky has proposed a trade centered around Luke Hochevar for Porcello. I do think Hochevar would be a solid piece to start discussions, and the difference in the two players’ projected salaries is less than $3 million, meaning the Royals’ rumored payroll restrictions wouldn’t be impacted significantly. But, if the Royals are unwilling to part with Hochevar, it is possible that Crow and/or Collins, and a prospect would be enough of a return for the Tigers to bite. Like I said, I’m awful with attempting to predict hypothetical trades, but the concept of a deal makes perfect sense.

If the Royals truly are committed to building their success based on pitching and defense, it would behoove them to add a pitcher who could slide into that 2nd spot in the rotation. Acquiring Porcello would also give Duffy and Ventura plenty of time to ease into a starting role, without being relied upon to be top of the rotation starters immediately. Porcello has gotten better in each of his professional seasons, and he doesn’t even turn 25 until next month. If he can continue to get strikeouts like he did in 2013, Porcello could provide somewhere around 4 fWAR next year, and he could be a legitimate replacement for Ervin Santana.