Tomase: Forget about trading Rick Porcello. The Red Sox should extend him

John Tomase
December 13, 2018 - 12:50 pm

USA Today Sports

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The Red Sox return all five members of their championship rotation, and the only one I wouldn't trade is Rick Porcello.

That may sound stupid, because besides the outlier to end all outlier seasons when he won a Cy Young Award in 2016, Porcello basically qualifies as slightly above league average. But as reports suggest the Red Sox could move the right-hander in order to save the final $21 million on his contract, I'd like to offer an alternative.

Extend him.

Porcello is what he is, and his skills have value. Cy Young or not, I think we can all agree he's never going to front a rotation. What he will do is provide a reliable 30-plus starts and, say, 190 innings a year out of the 3-4 spots. He's the surest thing in the Red Sox rotation, albeit with the lowest ceiling. That reliability is exactly what makes him appealing.

Chris Sale? Too fragile. David Price? Too expensive. Eduardo Rodriguez? Too inconsistent. Nathan Eovaldi? Too unproven (although seeing as he just signed, let's remove him from the conversation).

General manager Ben Cherington was pilloried for giving Porcello a four-year, $82.5 million extension in 2015, but it has been money well spent. Porcello has made 33 starts in each of the last three seasons and last year not only won 17 games, he got the ball rolling on the whole starters-as-lockdown-relievers thing in the postseason with two key outs against the Yankees in Game 1 of the Division Series vs. the Yankees.

That performance, as well as the playoffs in general, illustrates exactly what makes Porcello more valuable than his numbers. He's a leader and a competitor and even if it can't be quantified, his presence matters. There's a reason he was moved to tears after the World Series. He cares as much as anyone in the Red Sox clubhouse.

"Rick is amazing," manager Alex Cora said at the winter meetings. "Whenever I have to send a message about traveling or clubhouse stuff or dress codes, it goes through Rick, Chris and David. The emotion he showed when we won, I mean, he told me the other day, he hasn't stopped crying. He is a good athlete who gives you innings, fields his position and is very accountable."

In baseball, there's a value to certainty. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield may have featured the most unpredictable pitch in the game, but the Red Sox kept him around for all those years because they knew he'd provide 150-200 innings a year with an ERA in the low-4.00s.

Wakefield generally played for relatively little -- he never made $20 million annually -- but he provided value, like Porcello.

The Red Sox can afford to "overpay" for reliability. The contracts that kill them are the ones like Pablo Sandoval's or Carl Crawford's -- players who not only underachieve, but are in and out of the lineup while doing it.

Porcello checks neither box. He's unlikely to stray far from expectations, but that's OK. He's the safest bet in the Red Sox rotation, and it's easy to envision him maintaining this level of performance into his mid-30s.

Add his clubhouse impact, his ability to withstand the glare of Boston, and his hard-nosed demeanor, and he's the perfect complement to any club with championship aspirations.

The Red Sox face some hard decisions in coming years, with Sale, Porcello, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and potentially J.D. Martinez hitting free agency over the next two winters. It's easy to kick Porcello off the books to create space for the stars, but some of Porcello's money would also need to be devoted to replacing him, and even average 200-inning mid-rotation starts aren’t cheap.

So no, the Red Sox shouldn't be looking to move Porcello. They should be finding a way to keep him.

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