The Tigers' situation with Rick Porcello seems to have reached that critical mass where if you write about the Tigers, you have to comment on it. I don't want to have my Tiger blogger card taken away, so here I go.
I happen to be of the opinion that, while the Tigers have certainly listened to offers for Porcello, they aren't going to move him anytime soon. I think when the Tigers evaluate offers for Porcello, they evaluate the upgrade his return brings against the downgrade from Porcello to who would become the team's "sixth starter". When they do that evaluation, I think what teams are offering keeps coming up short.
The more I hear the names and roles that are being tossed around as potential trade bait for Porcello, the firmer my stance becomes. Porcello has more value than the short end of a left field platoon or a marginal closer. He has more value than those two roles combined.
I've shared similar thoughts on Twitter, and one of the people who has chimed in was the Detroit News' Tony Paul. Something he said in the midst of one of these conversations stuck with me. He said to never underestimate how desperate teams get when the end of spring training approaches. In other words, offers for Porcello could get better as teams stare down the regular season with a rotation that has less than five viable major league starters.
No offense to Tony, but this struck me as one of those statements that makes perfectly rational sense, but doesn't hold up as true under closer inspection. You know, like those bits of wisdom Bill James made a career of picking apart.
I set out to see whether teams did indeed panic at the end of spring training to shore up deficiencies in their rosters. To accomplish this, I went to baseball-reference.com. Let me pause to say it's not a bad idea to begin any baseball research by starting at baseball-reference.com.
At that invaluable site, there is a historical database of past transactions for every day of the year. So I cut and paste every single trade from the past ten years that took place between the dates of March 19th and April 7th. March 19th because it was the day after the conversation in question took place. April 7th because I guessed that was the absolute latest the season would begin and figured a trade in the first week of the season would still qualify as a "panic trade".
What did I find? Well, from 2003 to 2012, there were 101 trades. A few notes on procedure, I did not include all the trades that completed previous transactions. I also did not include teams sending back Rule 5 draft picks. I did include trades that resulted from Rule 5 machinations.
Going through the list, here are those that seemed to me to be the closest to "big trades".
- Washington Nationals trade Nyjer Morgan to Milwaukee Brewers for Cutter Dykstra
- St. Louis Cardinals get Khalil Greene from San Diego Padres for Luke Gregorson and Mark Worrell
- Texas Rangers trade David Dellucci to Philadelphia Phillies for Jake Blalock and Rob Tejeda
- Boston Red Sox trade Bronson Arroyo and cash to the Cincinnati Reds for Wily Mo Pena
- Seattle Mariners trade Matt Thornton to Chicago White Sox for Joe Borchard
- Cleveland Indians trade Milton Bradley to Los Angeles Dodgers for Franklin Gutierrez and Andrew Brown
- Los Angeles Dodgers trade Jason Frasor to Toronto Blue Jays for Jayson Werth
As far as I can tell, those are the "big ones", and I am clearly stretching the parameters to call them that. Borchard for Thornton, for example, was only included because Thornton worked out so well for the Sox. At the time, I believe it was a challenge trade of disappointing prospects.
In contrast, I did not include some other trades that seem bigger now than they did at the time. These are a couple that included Brandon Phillips and R. A. Dickey. In each instance, from my memory and looking at the returns received, the teams trading away these future stars had clearly given up on them at the time. I also admit I may have, through imperfect memory, overlooked a trade or two that seemed like a big deal back when it was made but turned out to be no big deal.
Regardless, these are the trades that stood out over the past ten years. I see three, maybe four trades over the past ten years in the dates covered - the time of year we're in right now - where a player of Porcello's caliber was dealt. I would say the potential qualifiers are Nyjer Morgan, David Dellucci, Bronson Arroyo and Milton Bradley. So in the past ten years, at this time of year, exactly one starting pitcher of Rick Porcello's approximate value has been moved.
Obviously, this is like the mutual fund commercials where they warn past performance does not assure future success. The Tigers don't care at all whether their trade on March 22nd would break past precedent. However, what this research suggests to me is teams don't take the risk of cutting holes in their rosters this close to the start of the season. That seems to go double for starting pitchers.
So, upon completing this research, allow me to reiterate. I remain very confident the Tigers are not going to move Porcello this close to the start of the season.
Note to readers: I will email a list of the 101 trades to anybody who would like to double check to make sure I didn't miss any doozy trades. Just send me a request.