New Pirates general manager, Ben Cherington, has stated that he plans on upgrading the pitching rotation of the team. With that as a primary focus of the new regime, a primary free agent target should be right-handed starter, Rick Porcello.
Rick Porcello is no stranger to high expectations. The former 2007 first round selection by the Detroit Tigers, was highly touted out of high school and carried those expectations through the minor leagues. By 2009, Porcello was the youngest player in the American League, but that did not prevent then Tigers manager, Jim Leyland, from turning to Porcello to start the tie-breaking playoff game for Detroit his rookie year, as testament to his abilities and makeup as a starter.
Porcello would pitch well in the big moment, allowing two earned runs over 5 2⁄3 innings in a no-decision, in a game the Tigers would lose in extra innings to the Twins. Porcello would go on to finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting.
The right-hander would pitch through the 2014 season with the Tigers, accumulating a record of 76-63 with a 4.30 earned run average during that time. Follow the 2014 season, Porcello would be traded to the Boston Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier.
Porcello would have an up-and-down career with Boston, seemingly finding success every-other-year, while pitching below average in the off years. The pinnacle of his time with Boston includes a Cy Young Award in the 2016 season. That season, he would win a league high 22 games, while posting an earned run average of 3.15 in 33 starts for the Red Sox.
In addition to having a Cy Young Award on his resume, Porcello also has a World Series ring, having won a championship with Boston in 2018. Given these major successes, one would be led to believe that Porcello should be one of the top commodities on the free agent market this offseason. However, the righty is coming off an abysmal year in Boston, which has significantly eroded his value.
This past season, Porcello went 14-12 with a 5.52 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, while striking out 143 batters. The 2019 performance was easily his worst in his professional career, so why should Pittsburgh make him a target? There are actually a number of positives that can be gleaned from the career stats of Porcello, that indicate that he would be a viable option for the Pirates.
While it is likely that he won’t pitch up to his 2016 Cy Young season levels again, Porcello can be an extremely valuable arm in the rotation. Despite some unsightly earned run averages at times, he isn't typically the pitcher who doesn’t last in his starts. In fact, Porcello has thrown over 160 innings in 11 straight seasons, averaging 34 starts per year.
In addition to eating valuable innings, which helps preserve the bullpen, he pitches well enough to keep his team in the game, giving them the opportunity to win. This statement is supported by the fact that Porcello has averaged 15 wins per season throughout his 11 year career.
In addition to serving as a reliable source of innings and wins in the rotation, Porcello has always had the reputation of being a solid clubhouse guy and a charitable player in the community. These are strong traits to have from a veteran pitcher who could be utilized to mentor younger players.
Given the down season that Porcello just experienced, the likelihood is that he could be signed at a reasonable price, falling well within Pittsburgh’s price range. While he may very well decide to sign a 1-year deal, as an opportunity to have a rebound season and sign a more lucrative deal following next season, the Pirates should certainly be interested.
There is a solid chance that Porcello would experience a resurrection in statistics if he were to choose to move to the National League. Removing the designated hitter from the equation should allow Porcello to cut down on some of his earned run issues by virtue of having to face pitchers in the lineup on a regular basis.
The idea of signing a soon to be 31-year-old, former Cy Young Award winner, with playoff experience and a World Series ring on his resume, at a discounted rate, should be tantalizing for the Pirates. Given that Ben Cherington was the general manager of the Red Sox when the team traded for Porcello, he is likely on the new GM’s radar.
If that is the case, and the Pirates are able to land Porcello as a free agent signing, he should bolster the rotation of the Pirates, making it formidable, joining the likes of Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove, Trevor Williams and Mitch Keller. Therefore, Porcello should remain a top priority for Pittsburgh this offseason.