Trade Scherzer or Porcello?
Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski basically guaranteed the baseball world when he said that Drew Smyly would be in the starting rotation in 2014. Unless he and new manager Brad Ausmus have a 6-man rotation in the works (which they don’t), one of the Tigers’ starting five from 2013 will be on his way out.
Since Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez have both recently signed long-term contracts, they won’t be going anywhere. Doug Fister is also moveable, but at this point in the season, teams are looking more towards young, controllable players or superstar rentals for one or two years. Fister is a great veteran presence and is a proven winner, but he is the kind of guy that would be traded midseason to a team looking for the final piece in their playoff puzzle.
Which leaves us with two: Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
Why trade Scherzer?
Seriously, the guy is coming off of a 21-3 season, is pretty much guaranteed the Cy Young Award, and easily dominated hitters from April through October. If the Tigers keep Max, the regular season will just be a formality–easy AL Central victory.
But the reason Scherzer may be traded is because of his value. After next season, Scherzer will most likely explore free agency rather than sign a discounted extension with Detroit, who won’t be able to afford another $100M contract that Max will probably be looking to get. So trading Max now lets another team worry about that, while the Tigers bring in a few players in return.
The Tigers are in need of a second baseman, a left fielder, a bullpen, and an entire farm system. Trading Scherzer now, when his value is through the roof, would get the highest return of talent, and can go a long way toward filling these holes. Personally, I would want to see a Scherzer trade reap some good prospects to begin refilling the farm system. Outside of Bruce Rondon and Nick Castellanos, there are few bright spots in the minors. Trading Scherzer to a team desperate for a superstar pitcher, even if it’s just for one season, could result in some good minor league arms and maybe a young bat or two.
So why not trade him? Well, the Tigers are in Win Now mode. They have the pieces to make the playoffs, clearly. It’s just a matter of making the run through three rounds of playoff games. Keeping Scherzer keeps that Scherzer-Verlander-Sanchez trio that was so tough to opposing hitters in the 2013 playoffs, and practically guarantees a trip back to the ALCS. Plus, losing Scherzer to free agency will still get the Tigers a 1st-round compensation pick from the team that ends up singing up. The short of it is: the Tigers are a Win Now team, and keeping Scherzer gives the team a better chance to Win Now than trading him.
Why trade Rick Porcello?
Rick Porcello has been a polarizing kind of guy for the past few years. His E.R.A. has never been under 3.96, he doesn’t look like he has the confidence of a Verlander or Scherzer, and he’s definitely not as good. But the guy has won 10+ games all five years of his career, developed a curveball that he now uses as a strikeout pitch, and saw his walk and hit numbers decrease from 2012. He has pitched well for Detroit, he is just massively overshadowed by the Big 3 and even Fister.
Trading Porcello would obviously not get the kind of return that Scherzer would produce, but teams are always looking for a guy like Porcello. He will be 25 years old when the 2014 season begins, with five seasons already under his belt. Porcello has two more years before he can become a free agent, which is plenty of time to work an extension. Rick is also far cheaper than Scherzer–arbitration estimates for Porcello put him in the $6-$7M range for 2014. Expect Scherzer to be at least double Porcello’s number. Porcello’s cost to another team would also be significantly less than Scherzer, probably a bullpen arm or two plus a low-mid level prospect.
Keeping Porcello for 2014 keeps a winner in Detroit, and also keeps the payroll down to a more manageable number. With all the large contracts on the team now, Dombrowski and the Tigers could really use all the cheap talent they can get. $6-$7M isn’t necessarily cheap, but the money they would save keeping Porcello instead of Scherzer would could turn into a serviceable left fielder or solid bullpen arm.
Which is better for the Tigers?
Like I said before, the Tigers are in Win Now mode. They feel that 2014 is their year, and it’s certainly looking like it can be. Keeping Scherzer gives them the best chance to do that. That said, the Tigers can definitely win with Porcello instead of Scherzer, it just wouldn’t be as easy.
I think what Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch need to do is look past 2014 and see where they will sit after next season. Scherzer will be gone, Victor Martinez will be gone, and both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will be a year older. They need to rebuild a farm system that can replace Cabrera and Fielder when the time comes, or provide a legitimate starting pitcher if Fister or Porcello end up leaving.
The Tigers can win in 2014 with either Scherzer or Porcello, but they fare better in the long run by trading Scherzer for a group of talented prospects. I would rather the front office trade a few wins in 2014 than trade a chance at AL Central division dominance for years to come.