We're in the slow period of Major League Baseball's offseason, but the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles may have something special in store for us.
According to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, there's a deal being discussed that involves Detroit right-hander Rick Porcello going to Chicago. Since the Tigers don't like what the Cubs have to offer, they're trying to get the Orioles involved so they can acquire shortstop J.J. Hardy.
All the Orioles would get out of this would be "pitching" from the Cubs, which is as vague as it gets. As such, asking them to part with Hardy may be asking a lot.
Then, there's the reality that the Orioles could just do business with the Tigers directly rather than go through the Cubs. They could do so because they apparently also covet Porcello, but the Tigers may not be willing to do so because the Orioles would probably want more than Porcello for Hardy.
But anything's possible. In this case, it's possible that the parameters of the proposed deal will lead to a trade.
If so, there would be some fallout.
Impact on Cubs and NL Central
The Cubs have already made some additions to their rotation this winter, inking Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva to multi-year deals and Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to one-year deals.
These guys are all solid additions. Not great, but solid. If they were to add Porcello, he'd be another solid addition.
Granted, Porcello's numbers aren't great, or even good. He owns a career ERA of 4.55 and a career WHIP of 1.42. He's given up 436 hits in only 358.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Porcello, however, deserves better than his career totals. He's a good control pitcher who generates ground balls, meaning he'd be right at home on a team with a superior infield defense.
The Cubs are a decent fit for Porcello. They have strong fielders on the right side in first baseman Anthony Rizzo and second baseman Darwin Barney, and shortstop Starlin Castro at least has the tools to be a strong fielder. If Porcello were to have them behind him, his numbers would improve.
Porcello isn't eligible for free agency until 2016, so for at least three years, the Cubs would be able to enjoy a rotation headed by him, Jackson and Jeff Samardzija (the most talented of the three). Thus, their long-term future will have gotten a boost.
The Cubs short-term future would be more complicated, as the addition or Porcello would mean the subtraction of another pitcher.
Matt Garza would be a candidate to go, either to the Orioles to complete the trade or later on in spring training. The latter may be more likely, as Garza has to prove his troublesome right elbow is healthy heading into his walk year in order to have trade value.
If the addition of Porcello were to mean the subtraction of Garza, Chicago's rotation wouldn't be getting an upgrade in the short-term. Even in the best-case scenario, the overall talent level would be the same as it is now.
Even if the Cubs find a way to head into 2013 with Porcello and Garza in their rotation, they still wouldn't look like a potential noisemaker in the NL Central. They've gotten better this winter, but not to a point where they're ready to contend in what is a very deep division.
The Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals are easily the two most talented teams in the NL Central. The Pittsburgh Pirates will be a contender if they figure out their second-half woes, and the Milwaukee Brewers are a sleeper for 2013 after coming alive in the second half of 2012.
The realistic expectation for the Cubs if they were to acquire Porcello would be the same as it is now. They have enough talent to close the gap that existed between them and the top four teams in the NL Central in 2012, but not enough to make a run at winning the division.
Their best hope would be that the Pirates and/or the Brewers would help them out by stumbling in 2013, which could potentially lead to the Cubs finishing in fourth or even third place.
Anything more than that is asking too much.
Impact on Orioles and AL East
It's admittedly more difficult to project how this trade would impact the Orioles, as all we know is that they'd be getting "pitching."
Since the deal would require them to give up Hardy, the Orioles would have to get one of Chicago's better pitchers. Garza could be the guy, as he would fill the Orioles' need for an experienced front-end starter they could put at the top of their rotation.
Garza fits that bill not only because he's compiled a respectable 3.74 ERA over the last five seasons, but also because he's battle-tested in the AL East from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles could also like the fact that Garza is looking to have a big walk year.
However, there's the big question: Hardy is signed through 2014, so do the Orioles give up two years of him for potentially only one year of Garza?
Probably not, hence the reason they may want nothing to do with this deal. And goodness knows they'd be wasting their breath asking for Samardzija or the freshly signed Jackson.
The list of controllable pitchers the Cubs have to offer beyond them is short, really only consisting of lefty Travis Wood and top prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who is coming off Tommy John surgery.
Between the two, the Orioles would probably only be willing to take Vizcaino because of his high upside. They may also have a realistic shot at getting him because of his injury status and because of the questions over whether he may be better off relieving rather than starting.
The Orioles could make something out of Vizcaino. Rick Peterson, the club's director of pitching development, turned out to be a secret weapon in 2012. He turned what was essentially a collection of spare parts into what was a halfway-decent pitching staff by the end of the year.
Give Peterson a pitcher with Vizcaino's raw talent, and he'd surely shape him into something special.
Whomever the Orioles were to get in this deal would have to be special right away in order for them to justify doing it, as they're not looking to take a step back now for the sake of taking two steps forward in the future. If nothing were to come of this trade right away, then the immediate result would be a downgraded infield featuring Manny Machado at shortstop and Wilson Betemit at third base.
That would set the Orioles back in what is going to be a hotly contested AL East race in 2013. Even if they were to get something out of their new pitcher, they'd still be tasked with keeping pace in a division that features the loaded Blue Jays, the steady-as-they-come Rays and Yankees and the refurbished Red Sox.
In order to do that, the Orioles would need more of the good fortune they rode to the playoffs in 2012. Given how much they used, I doubt there's any more where it came from.
Impact on Tigers and AL Central
Of the three teams involved in this proposed deal, the Tigers would emerge as the big winners.
It's easy to see why they want Hardy. They're currently looking at another season with Jhonny Peralta as their shortstop, and that means they're looking at another season of "who knows?"
Peralta was one of Detroit's top hitters in 2011, posting an .824 OPS and hitting 21 home runs. In 2012, he managed just a .689 OPS and 13 home runs. His regression played a part in the general lack of depth the Tigers had in their lineup all season.
To be fair to Peralta, he's better than he gets credit for on defense. According to FanGraphs, he's posted a 9.9 UZR in each of the last two seasons.
But Peralta's not on Hardy's level defensively. Hardy's one of the best in the business, totaling a 22.2 UZR and 25 defensive runs saved over the last two seasons.
Hardy's bat is just as unpredictable as Peralta's, but the Tigers must figure that they may as well take an elite glove to go along with an unpredictable bat at shortstop. Hardy's also locked up through 2014, whereas Peralta is only locked up through this season.
If this deal gets done, the Tigers will be able to plug Hardy in as their starting shortstop and then trade Peralta to satisfy other needs. He could net them a reliever or an outfielder, or perhaps a starting pitcher to take Porcello's place.
Hardy alone would make the Tigers a better team, as his defense would help Detroit's vaunted starting pitching staff maximize its potential. Doug Fister, in particular, would benefit from Hardy's arrival, as he's more of a ground-ball pitcher than Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.
The notion of the Tigers becoming a better team is not music to the ears of the rest of the AL Central. The Tigers already are the best team in the division, as they have the best rotation by a mile and a lineup that features Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter.
The Tigers already are the favorite to win the AL Central in 2013. Hardy would make them more of a favorite just with his glove, and he'd make them an absolute slam dunk if he were to recapture the offensive form (.801 OPS and 30 homers) he showed in 2011.
The Tigers have made a few go-big-or-go-home moves in the last year or so. They'd be making another if they were to turn Porcello into Hardy.
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