Talk as of late has been that the Indians would consider moving Shin-Soo Choo. It’s not an easy decision for a franchise to make, but at 5.5 games out of the division race and free agency looming, now might be the ideal time to move him, especially if they don’t see it likely they’ll be able to keep him past 2013.
They’re not going to give up on him in a pure fire sale for prospects however, instead, they want a major league ready player in return that still has three years until free agency, ensuring the player will be under team control for at least a few more years.
Could this be a match? Putting division rivalry aside (which the Tigers have in the past, and which the Twins and White Sox did just last week), adding a bat the caliber of Choo to the Tigers lineup would give the team a much needed boost from a position where the team has been lacking in productivity.
It’s no secret that the Tigers have been struggling to get production from the corner outfield spots and designated hitter this year. The numbers show just how bad it’s been. The Tigers OPS+ in right field so far this year comes in at 69, well below average. DH is just as bad, at 68. Even left field, where the Tigers have seen strong performance from Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry at various points in the season, is still below average at 90.
Choo’s OPS+ currently stands at 147. He’s hitting .291 with a .378 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage. For his career, he’s been very close to posting the ever-desired .300/.400/.500 slash line, and has a career OPS of .857.
When the Tigers added Sanchez and Omar Infante, it helped elevate the club to a team that could be a contender. But with the likes of Delmon Young, Brennan Boesch, and Quintin Berry in the everyday lineup, does that truly sound like a group of hitters that can make up one-third of a lineup that would challenge for a World Series? It’s doubtful, but subbing out one of the three for Choo probably goes a long way toward making the comparison even.
Choo also won’t be a free agent until after the 2013 season, giving the Tigers another year with the productive outfielder, for which they’d also be adding Victor Martinez back to the lineup, which should help return the club to a lineup that would be among the league’s best.
Adding Choo clearly makes sense for the Tigers. But giving up Rick Porcello at first glance to many fans is a tough sell. Porcello is still just 23 years old, has proven very durable over the past three seasons, and despite an ERA that isn’t great at 4.56, his FIP is almost a full point lower at 3.69, and he’s been improving his K:BB ratio each of the last three years. Plus, he’s under team control until 2016.
It’s for those reasons that Porcello could be desirable to the Indians, given only Zach McAllister currently sports an ERA under four, and a pitcher like Derek Lowe is on his way out sooner or later as well.
The Tigers also just made an investment to trade for right-hander Anibal Sanchez, and in all likelihood, the type of pitcher Sanchez is profiles as a better fit with the team the Tigers now field. Porcello is a groundball pitcher that only strikes out five batters per nine innings. The Tigers infield defense is among the worst in baseball, and even if they were to replace someone like Jhonny Peralta after this season, is still going to be below average with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder manning the corners. Sanchez is averaging eight strikeouts per nine innings, and averaged over nine last season. A move like this might even help Porcello’s overall performance, as the Tigers defense is at least part of a reason why his FIP has been an average of three-fourths of a run lower than his ERA over the past three years.
Others might counter that the Tigers can’t part with a key member of the team’s rotation in a playoff race. It’s a fair point, but the Tigers would be able to turn to Drew Smyly, currently back down in Triple-A Toledo, to fill the void. Smyly’s ERA and FIP are both within a tenth of a run of Porcello’s, he’s six months younger and has far less professional experience so certainly has potential for improvement as well, and is a left-hander, which would help balance out a rotation that is currently full of right-handers.
Also, Porcello is making $3.1 million this year and is going to be due a raise in arbitration after this season. Saving that one-year salary (likely to be in the $6 million range) will help make it much easier for the Tigers to re-sign Sanchez this coming offseason.
So the Tigers could get similar production out of Smyly as they could with Porcello, provide a big upgrade to the lineup for this year and next year which would help set up the ability to challenge for a World Series again, free up funds to attempt to bring back Sanchez. It’s a tough sell to many, but a move the Tigers should really consider if the Indians are open to it.