The Red Sox started on the road for Opening Day, but Monday arrived with much fanfare in New England. Spring finally seemed to have arrived, Clay Buchholz pitched a gem against an anemic Phillies offense, and the Boston bats cracked five home runs (including two from recently acquired Hanley Ramirez).
After dominating the Phillies on the field, Boston announced the team locked up 26 year old Rick Porcello on a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension. Porcello's extension came as a surprise to many, as he's already been through arbitration four times and was generally expected to test the free agent market and once the season began.
Porcello brings some stability to the pitching staff that is largely middle-of-the-road but he'll complement what is projected to be the best lineup in baseball. Boston inked Hanley Ramirez to an $88 million deal over four years and Pablo Sandoval to a $95 million deal over five years this offseason to make that happen. Porcello joins Wade Miley as a cornerstone for the pitching staff for the medium term (Miley is signed through 2017 with an option for 2018) as two key pieces in an otherwise fluid rotation.
In his young career, Porcello has already amassed 1,073 innings making him the youngest active pitcher to have crossed the 1,000 innings threshold. Only Madison Bumgarner is on pace for more than Porcello at that age (Bumgarner is 25 and has thrown 960). Age is likely the single largest factor for this deal getting completed. The Red Sox hope to have a 200 innings+ player locked down, and Porcello will be a free agent at the age of 30 where he would hope to land another mega-deal, which works out for both sides.
The Porcello extension is interesting because Boston did not seem to make a play to sign James Shields who over the course of the last three years has pitched more innings, had an ERA nearly a run lower and a FIP 0.2 runs lower than Porcello. The Boston brass was clearly hesitant to sign a 32 year old despite demonstrating durability, health and an ERA 20% above league average over the last three years. San Diego signed Shields to a four year $72 million deal just a couple of months ago and Porcello will make more than that over the same period of time.
|Last Three Seasons||James Shields||Rick Porcello|
Not only is Porcello's youth an asset but his good health is also noteworthy. Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs has done extensive research related to pitcher health and Porcello fits the bill almost perfectly. Zimmerman notes that a young player who has shown an ability to weather the duration of multiple Major League seasons and stay healthy are excellent signs for future health. Additionally, previous injury predicts future injury and Porcello has not spent any time on the disabled list over the last three years, during which time he averaged 30 starts per season.
In a vacuum, this extension may seem like an overpay for Boston, as an average annual value of $20.6 million for a 2-3 win pitcher seems pricey. But given the exploding revenues in baseball, $20 million per season doesn't go as far as it used to and investing in Porcello is an investment in a much younger player that you normally have a chance to. For a player that projects as a consistent middle-of-the-rotation starter, Boston likely will get exactly what they paid for. However, it is worth questioning whether a team with a lesser payroll would have the appetite to take this sort of plunge for a pitcher who is unlikely to emerge as a true ace, but that's the benefit of being a big-market club.
Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.