A 24-year-old starting pitcher with four seasons already on his résumé would surely attract plenty of interest throughout MLB.
After signing Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million contract, the Tigers' starting rotation goes at least four deep. Justin Verlander obviously is the No. 1 starter. Doug Fister and Max Scherzer occupy the next two spots. That puts Sanchez fourth, leaving the fifth spot open for Detroit.
The two candidates for that job are Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. But Porcello should yield the bigger return in trade.
Yet even if Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski didn't make Porcello available, GMs from other clubs can see from Detroit's current roster that the team has an apparent surplus of starting pitchers and is likely looking to make a deal.
Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi reported the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks have both contacted the Tigers about Porcello. Those two clubs join the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres in showing recent interest, according to recent rumors.
However, the Cubs need a third team to get involved in a deal for Porcello, as they likely don't have the resources to make a trade happen. According to MASN's Roch Kubatko, that club is the Baltimore Orioles, because the Tigers want shortstop J.J. Hardy.
The Padres have reportedly offered reliever Luke Gregorson in a trade package for Porcello, while the Tigers have also expressed interest in outfielder Jesus Guzman. However, the San Diego Union-Tribune's Bill Center believes that GM Josh Byrnes might have to include an outfielder in the deal as well.
Judging from Morosi's tweet, however, the Mariners and D-Backs may have jumped ahead in line to talk to the Tigers about Porcello.
The right-hander has three more seasons of arbitration eligibility, and keeping a young pitcher under club control for a few years would appeal to teams with smaller payrolls like Seattle and Arizona.
Last season, Porcello made $3.1 million. MLB Trade Rumors' Matt Swartz projects Porcello to get $4.7 million through the arbitration process this year. (Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has never gone to an arbitration hearing with a player in his 11 years with Detroit.) Those are rather affordable salaries in today's market.
Those two factors should help the Tigers get a decent return for Porcello. However, he hasn't developed into an upper-rotation starter over the past three seasons and that will probably prevent a team from offering a top prospect in any potential trade.
What Could the D-Backs Deal?
The Diamondbacks appear loaded with young starting pitching, so it's difficult to see why they would want Porcello. But with Daniel Hudson recovering from Tommy John surgery and prospect Tyler Skaggs perhaps needing more time in Triple-A Reno, maybe Arizona views Porcello as a fourth or fifth starter.
Three years ago, Arizona hoped to get Porcello for shortstop Stephen Drew, but the Tigers nixed the deal. Towers was not Arizona's GM at the time, but apparently he shares his predecessor's interest.
After trading Jacob Turner to the Miami Marlins in the deal for Anibal Sanchez, Detroit's minor league system is in need of some starting pitching talent. The Diamondbacks could certainly help them there.
Skaggs and Patrick Corbin are surely off-limits, but perhaps a trade package could be built around someone like Single-A pitcher Anthony Meo or Double-A prospect Chase Anderson.
Detroit could also use a major league reliever for its bullpen. Might J.J. Putz be expendable after the D-Backs acquired Heath Bell from the Marlins? Back in 2008, the Tigers tried to get Putz from the Mariners, but didn't have the center fielder Seattle was seeking in return.
A utility infielder who can play shortstop, such as Willie Bloomquist or John McDonald, could also possibly be included in a trade for Porcello. With the D-Backs' surplus of infielders, either player is likely available.
What Would the Mariners Trade?
The Mariners also have plenty of young pitching in their farm system, but aren't in a position to trade it away. It's extremely unlikely that a prospect like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton would be part of a deal for Porcello.
The Tigers would surely be interested in shortstop prospect Nick Franklin—who would have been part of a trade for Justin Upton, along with Walker—but Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik would probably only give up that kind of talent for Upton. (And really, that would have been an overpay by Seattle.)
The guess here is that Detroit would want Brendan Ryan, an elite defensive shortstop who would make Jhonny Peralta expendable. Yes, the Tigers would lose something defensively. But given the firepower in their lineup, Dombrowski would probably consider that an acceptable loss.
With the acquisition of Robert Andino from the Orioles, second baseman Dustin Ackley could very well be expendable. Omar Infante's contract expires after the 2013 season, and though the Tigers will probably try to bring him back, Ackley would give them insurance—and potential upside—at the position.
At one point, the Mariners considered moving Ackley to the outfield. But he's a left-handed hitter, and the Tigers already have Andy Dirks in left field. However, Detroit would have the luxury of giving Ackley a year to learn the position in the minors, if necessary.
If the Tigers are looking for a right-handed batter to platoon with Dirks, they may try to get Casper Wells back in a Porcello deal. Wells went to the Mariners in the 2011 trade for Fister. He can play all three positions and would make an ideal fourth outfielder for Detroit.
Could some combination of Ryan, Ackley and Wells get a deal done with the Tigers? All three probably would. But if the Mariners don't want to trade all three, they might have to include one more fringe prospect since Ryan and Ackley don't provide much offense.
Another player that would likely interest Detroit—perhaps even straight-up for Porcello—is reliever Tom Wilhelmsen.
The 29-year-old right-hander compiled a 2.50 ERA and 29 saves last season. He also struck out 87 batters in 79.1 innings. Seattle would probably have to include a lower-level prospect, but a trade could be built around Wilhelmsen.
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