The Tigers are putting Porcello on the market, reportedly. I think it makes sense to investigate was his worth might be. The Cubs have surplus infield prospects, so maybe there's a trade that makes sense.
Rick Porcello Profile
Porcello has always been a pitcher that had great peripherals and bad results. I don't like xFIP, but there's no denying that a 3.19 rate is impressive. However, the ERA last year was 4.32. There are several reasons for this. First, his strand rate is consistently, consistently well under the league average. His career rate is 69.4%; that means that right around 3-4% more of Porcello's baserunners score than is appropriate. The reason for this likely has to do with a few things, but a great reason would be the fact that Porcello is an EXTREME groundball pitcher. Runners move on groundballs, and that tends to result in advanced bases both on outs and extra bases (1st to 3rd) on singles. While groundballers get more double plays as well, I don't think that it makes up the difference. Porcello also suffers from what used to be the runaway worst defense of the left side of the infield in baseball. Cabrera is a DH that plays 3rd. Iglesias is a sublime defensive SS, but before that the Tigers made do with Peralta, who is average at best.
Porcello is a Super Two, so he'll have 2 more years of team control. He figures to make $7.7 million this year, and probably $11.3 million the year afterwards (60% and 80% of MFV). Those are pretty large numbers, but still a discount from what he'd be worth. Porcello has some surplus value, though it's hard to gauge a precise number given how dynamic the variables involved are.
I'm going to assume going forward that the new number for a FA win is $7.0 million. Generally, it's good to be on the other side of the Dave Cameron argument (I kid). If we do that (and keep it steady – read the article), we still need to calculate how many WARP Porcello figures to be worth. He was 2.6/3.0/3.2 in 11/12/13 by Fangraphs, and 1.3/1.3/1.2 by Baseball Prospects (Porcello is essentially the poster child of how edge cases show differences in the ratings systems). I tend to side with BPro, mostly because Porcello's game is wrapped up in infield defense and park factors (Rick gives up the longball on occasion). Neither facet plays up in Wrigley Field. I'd expect 1.5 and 2.0 WAR going forward (he is age-25 this upcoming season). That gives him a surplus value of 3.5 * 7 = $24.5 – $19.0 (arb values) = $5.5 million.
What does $5.5 million buy?
Not all that much, as it turns out. That's around the value of a pick in the 16th-30th range, so the back half of the first round. It also turns out to be the exact value of a Grade B hitter using Sickels system (though that is an old value). That would more-or-less be a Daniel Vogelbach-type.
When I started this piece, my whole thought process revolved around how Christian Villanueva would fit in a Tigers trade. He's a great defender at 3B, and allows Cabrera to DH exclusively (which he sorely needs at this point). He could probably use another half-season of seasoning at 3B, and take over at the hot corner in July when Cabrera starts to need to have days off in the field. He's the approximate surplus trade value of Rick Porcello's contract, as well. I don't think the Tigers would accept that trade (in fact, I'm certain they would not), but it'd be a good starting point in my opinion. Would you be sad if you parted with Christian Villanueva and Duane Underwood for Rick Porcello? I sure wouldn't.
For fun, let's dream big on Porcello. What if he really is worth 3.5 and 4.0 WAR in the next 2 years? That makes him 7.5 * 7 = $52.5 – $19.0 = $33.5 million worth of pitcher. That buys…significantly more. That's a Top 11-25 hitter + a Grade B pitcher. Think Almora and Maples or Vizcaino (Baez is still too valuable in that scenario; his projected surplus value is around $37 million). That's the difficulty of predicting a Porcello trade right now.