Well, he has done it again. Lynn Henning has Tigers fans in an uproar. This morning he floated the idea that Rick Porcello, he of the swirling trade rumors, could be an option as the Tigers search for a closer in 2013. It is interesting to consider that in a couple of different ways Porcello could solve the Closer issues. The obvious and most discussed way is, of course, via trade. Several teams, such as Washington and Boston, could use another Starting pitcher and also have some bullpen depth from which to deal – the Nationals with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, and the Red Sox with Andrew Bailey. However, Henning mentions that Porcello himself could serve as the Closer for the Tigers in 2013 rather than serving as trade currency. While it is somewhat out of Left Field, it is not an idea that should be dismissed easily in my opinion.
The names mentioned have some question marks. Bailey, after coming back from injury, posted some horrific statistics in just over 15 innings pitched. He allowed 21 hits and 8 walks in that span, accumulating 12 runs (all earned) for a 7.04 ERA and a WHIP 1.89. With numbers lie that, why not just bring back Jose Valverde (that is also an option by the way, according to Henning). Drew Storen imploded in the playoffs, and combined with Tyler Clippard‘s dismal second half, caused the Nationals to go out and sign Rafael Soriano. Playoff meltdowns…I think the Tigers would rather avoid that in 2013 after what they saw in 2012. Not that Porcello was without fault in 2012. If he was, then I probably wouldn’t be writing this article as the Tigers may not have re-signed Anibal Sanchez and thus given Detroit six pitchers for five spots. So far this spring though he appears to be blossoming into a pitcher that the Tigers thought they would get when they drafted him back in 2007. In his latest start Monday (yesterday), scouts from a number of team were on hand to watch him. He didn’t disappoint.
Back to the original premise – what about Rick Porcello serving as the Tigers’ Closer? Perhaps, at the very least, until Bruce Rondon can be given a chance to settle down and work out his apparent kinks, either in AAA Toledo or in a less pressure filled position within Detroit’s bullpen. It’s an option that I think has some merit. As Henning points out, not all Closers have to be strike-out pitchers. Todd Jones wasn’t known for his K’s. Although perhaps its best not to compare a potential Closer with a guy nicknamed “Rollercoaster”. Porcello’s velocity ticked upward last season and could see another bump if he is used in one-inning increments rather than 5-7 inning outings. If he could routinely sit around 95 AND throw his sinker/two-seamer for strikes…well that sounds like a nice combination for someone at he back-end of a bullpen. Not only that, but it also give the Tigers some additional flexibility if one of their five starting pitchers goes down for an extended time with an injury. Theoretically, Porcello could shift back into the rotation and the Tigers could either use a stop-gap combination at the game by pairing Phil Coke with Al Alburquerque or allow Rondon the opportunity to reclaim the spot.
So, what is the downside to this? The Tigers could lose out on the opportunity to strengthen their minor league system and/or their lineup by taking Porcello off the table in trade talks. Rick could fail miserably in the role and the Tigers are then left with a pitcher who now has less worth than he currently has. The Tigers pass up on the opportunity to get Storen, Clippard, Bailey, or someone I have not yet mentioned who is young and has an established bullpen record. I am sure there are others I may have missed but to me the downsides seem minimal when you consider the potential upsides.
What would spring training be were it not for some question about the Tigers’ pitching staff? Perhaps this year the question and answer are essentially one in the same. Thankfully, the Tigers still have a few weeks to tinker and see what happens with the other 29 teams in the MLB. Bruce Rondon will continue to get opportunities to win the Closers role and Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowksi could once again view Porcello as expendable. I hope they don’t though, pitching depth is not a bad thing to have.
(Authors note: I have always been a Porcello fan/believer…so I probably have rose-colored glasses here)