It wasn’t exactly a deadly lineup that Rick Porcello faced on Thursday night, but there isn’t really such a thing as a bad complete game shutout. Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that I’m a big fan of the work Porcello does on the mound and think highly of his future in baseball. I’m not going to rehash the Pro-Porcello (Procello?) arguments. You can read them yourself:
What I will say, however, is that it’s becoming increasingly necessary that the Tigers figure out a contract extension before he hits the open market after next season. The first step for the Tigers is to keep Victor Martinez around, but Porcello is right in line behind him and I think he’s a cheaper and better investment than Max Scherzer going forward.
Scherzer has been the better pitcher, no doubt, but Max is four years older and didn’t start to really figure himself out until he was 26 or 27 and didn’t really hit the gas until he was 28. Porcello remains just 25. It’s not a sure thing, but history tells us Porcello’s best days as a pitcher are still ahead of him.
Porcello is pretty clearly at least a 3 win pitcher going forward. He might even be something near a 4 win pitcher and I think you might get one year of 5-6 wins out of the Jersey born hurler. On the free agent market, a win above replacement trades for about $6 to $7 million meaning that even a low ball yearly salary would sit in the $12 to $14 million range. He’s probably going to make something close to $10 or $11 million in his final year of arbitration.
Let’s imagine this. If the Tigers let Porcello walk teams would be bidding for his age 27+ seasons, which is basically the typical season in which a pitcher starts to peak. Even if we were to assume Porcello is maxed out at his current level, his youth suggests he’s not going to get much worse for many years. He’s definitely getting at least four years and he’s probably getting closer to six barring something strange happening between now and then. By next offseason, the price of a win on the market should be around $7 million, so at the very least Porcello is going to fetch 4 years and $56 million. But that’s the extremely pessimistic offer (assuming health, of course). In reality, the upper bound could rest in the 6 years and $120 million range.
Teams have shown a willingness to pay a lot of money for relatively old starters and Porcello will be entering his prime rather than leaving it. Scherzer turned down a bigger offer than this with a year left before free agency at 29 and will likely make $200 million or more entering his age 30 season. There’s not much doubt Porcello is due at least half that sum.
Which means it’s probably now or never for the Tigers. I don’t think Porcello will have much incentive to sign an extension once 2015 starts. He’s going to make $10+ million next year and he’s sharp enough to self-insure the way Scherzer did. He’s got enough money in the bank where he can bet on himself once 2015 is underway and he won’t go below market value.
But I think there’s a window now. Sometime between now and the All-Star Break the Tigers need to approach Porcello about an extension. And I think they should make an interesting offer. I think they should offer him five years at a higher annual average value. Buy out his arbitration season (~$10 million) and then four free agent seasons at something close to $18 million a year. Offer him 5 years and about $85 million. Right about what Shark turned down in Chicago. While I think Porcello is a better long term better, Samardjiza probably should have taken that deal and Porcello is younger. My reasoning might not make sense, but think of it like this. Samardjiza is only going to get one shot at a big free agent deal entering his age 31 season. Porcello could sign this 5/$85M deal and be a free agent again at 31.
This deal makes sense for the Tigers because it locks up his prime without dipping too deep into the future and it works for Porcello because it pays him a nice sum of money and still allows him to cash in again in five years. If he ages typically and comes out as a 2 win pitcher at 31, he’s probably not going to have trouble getting a 4 year, $60 million deal after the one I’m proposing. That’s 9 year and $145 million if he doesn’t rock the world and inflation totally stops. If he does, he gets Scherzer money at 31 and buys a small island.
A lot of this is theoretical. I don’t know for sure that Porcello enjoys Detroit or if the Tigers can take on another contract in the Anibal Sanchez range (it seems like they can), but this is a good bet. Porcello has all the makings of a guy who’s going to be a very good pitcher for a very long time. He may never win a Cy Young, but his development at such a young age is extremely promising about what’s to come. Justin Verlander wasn’t JUSTIN VERLANDER until he turned 26. Porcello is still 25.
I don’t know if he’d take the deal, but I’d offer it and see. The Tigers lost Fister and appear to be ready to let Scherzer walk. Porcello’s youngest and is probably the best buy. You want a pitcher’s late twenties and that’s what he’s offering. It’s time to make it happen.