Clock ticking on Tigers timetable to move Porcello

DETROIT - Four weeks from today, the Detroit Tigers pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report for Spring Training in Lakeland.

Since the Tigers agreed to a long-term deal with Anibal Sanchez in mid-December, questions have swirled around the team's pitching staff, and more specifically, Rick Porcello.

Sanchez's return means the Tigers have four solid starters in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Sanchez. Rick Porcello could very well fill the fifth starting spot come February 12, but reports have continued to come out about his name in trade talks.

Dave Dombrowski said at Sanchez's re-signing press conference the team "would contemplate" the idea of trading a starting pitcher, but they don't want to make a move without reason.

Drew Smyly is the team's other starter. Dombrowski confirmed he is regarded as such at the same press conference.

That being said, the math is simple. There are six starters, but the Tigers aren't expected to open camp with six starters. That leaves a move to be made in the next 28 days.

Recent reports have the Tigers and Orioles interested in a swap of Porcello for closer Jim Johnson. The Orioles have basically been attached to Porcello's trade rumors since Day One, and Johnson is the latest name in a line of players floated around for Porcello's services.

Baltimore, according to Fox Sports writer Jon Paul Morosi, does not intend to move shortstop J.J. Hardy in any move with Porcello. Hardy had been one of the names mentioned in reports, and his potential acquisition would have then give the Tigers a chance to move Jhonny Peralta. That road looks to be closed.

So the question facing Dombrowski and company is this: How much is enough in return for a 24-year old pitcher whose ceiling is still to be determined, and whose trade value is really an unknown variable?

In four seasons with Detroit, Porcello has compiled the following records: 14-9, 10-12, 14-9, 10-12.

He has started 31 games in each season, except for 2010 when he pitched in 27. In all but that one year, his strikeout numbers have increased.

But the overall picture with Porcello has been a lack of consistency. At times, he strings together three or four starts where he looks like the potential dominant pitcher he was expected to be when the Tigers used the 27th overall pick in the 2007 Draft to bring him into the fold. Yet as soon as he picks up a string of wins, an eight-run defeat or a head-scratching outing has been a common following act.

He's got the 'stuff' to succeed, but the Tigers will undoubtedly pull the trigger soon on a move to either keep him in place or part ways.

The clock is ticking, but the pressure really isn't as heavy as some make it out to be. Having six starters isn't the worst problem. Look no further than last season, when injuries plagued the starting staff throughout the middle of the season, and put the Tigers behind the White Sox for the majority of the summer.

Smyly proved he belongs as a fourth or fifth starter in the MLB in the first half of the season, compiling a 1.59 ERA in his first six starts. He also had 34 strikeouts in 34 innings, fitting in nicely to Dombrowski's love for strikeout pitchers.

Another year of Smyly in Toledo, at least to start, wouldn't be the worst thing for the Tigers. Sure, questions would remain around Porcello for virtually the entire season if Smyly pitches well -- and Porcello doesn't, but that's baseball.

Three years remain on Porcello's initial deal with Detroit. Teams will certainly take a chance on him, but how much of a chance and again, how much will Dombrowski and company settle for?

Judging by the frequent reports, we'll likely find out sooner than later.

Brad Galli is a Sports Reporter for WXYZ Detroit. Follow Brad on Twitter @BradGalli.

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