FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi mentioned on Twitter that the Seattle Mariners are among the teams "involved" in discussions for Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello. The report is vague, but considering the Mariners just opened up a spot in their rotation by trading away Jason Vargas and that the Tigers just gained some flexibility by committing big money to Anibal Sanchez, it certainly seems plausible that the Mariners are eyeing Porcello.
Porcello is 23 years old for another week and has managed four complete seasons of average or better production (2-3 WAR) at the big league level so it's silly to call him a disappointment, but he'll always have that hanging over his head as one of the most hyped pre-Strasburg/Harper amateurs and a supposed future staff ace in the Roy Halladay-Brandon Webb mold. For the same reasons there will always be people hoping that he has the time and natural talent to make the leap from back-of-the-rotation stabilizer to top-half stud.
It's easy to be a dreamer. The guy looks the part at 6'6/200, still has plenty of youth ahead of him, is already pretty effective, reclaimed some fastball velocity last season, and is teammates with a similar pitcher who made a significant leap after being cast as a low-upside innings eater in Doug Fister. But while I'm through ruling anything out in baseball, I'm not predicting a plateau jump just yet given that none of his secondary offerings can be used as an out pitch and range in effectiveness from meh to don't-throw-that-again. But he doesn't have to improve his stuff to improve his results.
Porcello had the unfortunate task at trying to succeed as one of the groundballiest starters in baseball in front of one of the most well-rounded infield defenses. That's not a compliment, it's a fat joke. By UZR the Tigers ranked 20th (out of 30) defensively at first base and 27th at third base thanks to their immobile mashers. Tack on a mediocre showing at second base and you've got an uphill climb for Porcello, one that showed to some degree in the form of a league-worst .344 batting average on balls in play (BABiP).
If he wound up with the Mariners, Porcello would switch to a team that ranked 1st at shortstop, 2nd at second base, and middle of the pack at the corners. Porcello the Mariner doesn't suddenly become the ace he was once projected to become, but he has a good chance at getting his ERA into the 3s, making him an ideal replacement for Vargas. Unlike Vargas, Porcello is still looking up at his career and might have a little upside. He's expected to make less than $5 million this coming season in his second year of arbitration (he was a Super 2).
The thought of plopping Porcello into the Mariner rotation sounds nice, but like any move it all depends on the price, which is the tricky part. Porcello is young, cheap, under club control through 2015 and might be worth $50 million or more if he were to suddenly find himself on the open market. Even with his value slightly deflated due to his teammates, the Tigers will set the bar relatively high for their once untouchable asset. If you're Jack Zduriencik, how much are you willing to give up for the immediate comfort of Porcello with Danny Hultzen and James Paxton just months away (hopefully)? If the Mariners made a couple big moves to get themselves into the playoff picture then it might make sense to try and max out the roster with a guy like Porcello as the number four or five starter. As things stand now, it's probably not the right time.
Unless I'm completely overrating Porcello and his trade value to the Tigers. I guess we'll see.
Related: Tigers blog and our ESPN SweetSpot neighbor Walkoff Woodward recently posted about the possibility of trading Porcello.
Update: Morosi has added a blog post on the topic, adding that "Seattle and Baltimore are more actively interested than San Diego at this point." Morosi does some speculating as to what the Tigers could be looking for, though I personally think he's aiming low by rattling off the names of a bunch of expendable players from the interested teams. If he's on the the right track, the thought of a Porcello acquisition becomes far more appealing.
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosental reported that the Mariners were among the teams to talk with the Los Angeles Dodgers about outfielder Andre Ethier, though the negotiations aren't believed to have gone very far. The Dodgers suddenly seem eager to take a mulligan on the 5 year/$85 million dollar contract extension they gave Ethier back in June. Pro Ball NW's Brendan Gawlowski took a good look at the Ethier-to-Mariners possibility back in October.
Ethier hit .284/.351/.460 with 20 home runs last season as a 30-year-old.
FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi mentioned in a column about the American League West that "the Mariners spoke with the Dodgers recently about Chris Capuano ... but it doesn’t appear those talks have progressed." The southpaw Capuano has been a very solid and durable starter the past couple years after rebounding from a series of injuries and would offer a similar skillset and value as the recently departied Vargas. Capuano would have crossed paths with Zduriencik in Milwaukee and was a speculative target of the Mariners last offseason before he signed a two year contract with the Dodgers.
NY Daily News' Mark Feinsand was told by a source that "the Rangers and Mariners prefer power over speed as they look to add a hitter." It's not hard to connect the dots here as speed demon Michael Bourn, possibly the top free agent still available, is thought to be a fit for both clubs in the wake of Josh Hamilton's signing with the Angels.
MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote that the Mariners are among the teams interested in free agent lefty reliever J.P. Howell. Howell is nothing special and seems like an odd match for the Mariners given their current personel. My guess is that he's a backup option should Charlie Furbush be used to furnish a trade.