The Tigers’ ongoing search for pitching help could lead them to a familiar face. Detroit has shown interest in a potential reunion with its former top pick turned veteran starter Rick Porcello, MLB.com has learned, though the two sides remain apart on potential contract terms.
If the two sides can bridge the gap, it would be an interesting return that could benefit both sides — providing the Tigers with much-needed innings while giving the 32-year-old Porcello a chance at a bounce-back season in a comfortable spot.
The Tigers and general manager Al Avila have made pitching depth a priority all offseason, but especially in the past few weeks as they try to cover innings in the jump from last year’s 58-game season to a full 162-game schedule.
Detroit signed former Marlins Opening Day starter José Ureña to a one-year, $3.25 million contract in December, and has added Erasmo Ramírez, Derek Holland and Wily Peralta on Minor League contracts with non-roster invites to Major League Spring Training. Peralta’s deal has not yet been officially announced.
Detroit’s wave of top pitching prospects stands on the cusp of the big leagues, with Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal having debuted last summer and Matt Manning likely to do so this year, but the Tigers are wary of overextending them coming off no Minor League season in 2020.
“We’re definitely looking for more pitching as we speak,” Avila said Tuesday. “Whether it be a Major League contract or a Minor League [deal] with an NRI, I’m not really sure, but we’re definitely looking for more pitching. … I think at least one more starter would be ideal.”
Even as Spring Training workouts formally begin for pitchers and catchers, several noted free-agent pitchers remain on the market, including another former Tiger, Aníbal Sánchez.
The Tigers obviously know Porcello well, having drafted him out of high school and brought him into their rotation as a 20-year-old rookie in 2009. He posted a 76-63 record, 4.30 ERA and 10.6 bWAR over six seasons in Detroit before being traded to Boston for Yoenis Céspedes after the 2014 season. The impact of that deal is still felt in Detroit, as the Tigers traded Céspedes the following summer for a package of prospects that included Michael Fulmer.
Porcello went on to win the AL Cy Young Award with the Red Sox in 2016. He has had four up-and-down seasons since, including a 1-7 record and 5.64 ERA in 12 starts with the Mets last season. Those numbers belie a career-best 3.33 FIP and 0.8 home runs per nine innings — the latter being his best rate since his final season in Detroit.
The Tigers also know Porcello’s work ethic and character, plus his durability. He’s been through the challenge of transitioning from top prospect to established Major League starter, and could provide help beyond innings for Detroit’s next wave. His former manager, Jim Leyland, remains part of the Tigers organization as a special assistant. His old pitching coach, Jeff Jones, is retired but is still a trusted voice who still lives in Michigan and helps the club on occasion.
Porcello’s 150 career victories are second only to Clayton Kershaw among active pitchers who are age 32 or younger. Porcello ranks among the top 10 active pitchers in both wins and innings pitched.