The Tigers have discussed a potential reunion with right-hander Rick Porcello, Jason Beck and Jon Morosi of MLB.com report (Twitter link), although the two sides are still “a ways apart.” Tigers general manager Al Avila said earlier this week that he was still looking for arms and that adding “at least one more starter would be ideal.”
It’s been a rough couple years for the now-32-year-old Porcello, who turned in an ERA north of 5.00 during his final year in Boston and again in 2020 after signing a deal with the Mets. Over his past 233 1/3 frames in the big leagues, Porcello carries an ugly 5.55 ERA.
That said, there’s also reason to think he should’ve fared better in 2020 than he did in 2019. Porcello halved his 2019 home run rate as a member of the Mets last year and also improved upon both his strikeout and walk percentages while allowing less hard contact than in 2019.
A woeful Mets defense didn’t do him any favors, however, as reflected in his opponents’ .373 average on balls in play. That’s nearly 70 points higher than his career mark, and while some of it is attributable to allowing more line drives, the porous defense undoubtedly played at least some role. Fielding-independent metrics like SIERA (4.45) and xFIP (4.38) pegged Porcello’s 2020 campaign more in the mid-4.00s range that he’s lived throughout the bulk of his career.
Porcello also remained durable in Queens, making a dozen starts and soaking up 59 innings even as he struggled through those poor results. He hasn’t been on the injured list since missing three weeks with a triceps strain late in the 2015 season, so at the very least he could be expected to give the Tigers some bulk innings during a season in which they’ll likely be extra-cautious with the workloads of vaunted young arms like Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning.
At the moment, the Tigers have lefty Matthew Boyd and right-handers Spencer Turnbull, Michael Fulmer and Jose Urena locked into spots in the 2021 rotation. Skubal, Mize, Manning, Daniel Norris and non-roster arms like Derek Holland and Erasmo Ramirez will all be vying for opportunities in the rotation. Avila noted this week that the club could roll out with a six-man rotation in 2021 (link via Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press), so there could be multiple starting jobs up for grabs.
It’s an important year for the Tigers’ lengthy rebuilding effort, as they’ll want to get a chance to evaluate Mize, Skubal, Manning and others from their improved farm system at the MLB level. At the same time, there’s a fine line to walk; the Tigers surely don’t want to get to a point where injuries elsewhere on the roster force them to be overly reliant on that group to turn over the rotation, thus potentially inflating their workloads. Adding Porcello, who spent six seasons as a Tiger and won a Cy Young Award with the Red Sox in 2016, to help manage workloads and mentor younger starters has some appeal to the club.
From a payroll vantage point, the Tigers can clearly afford just about anyone they want. Their offseason investments to date have been a two-year, $10MM deal for Robbie Grossman and one-year deals for Jonathan Schoop ($4.5MM), Urena ($3.25MM), Wilson Ramos ($2MM) and Nomar Mazara ($1.75MM). Their current payroll sits at about $82MM — more than $110MM shy of its peak levels in 2016-17. That’s not likely to go up much in 2021, but they could still spend on a couple more veterans in the Porcello mode as they await a return to more prominently playing in the free-agent market next winter and beyond.