"Is it going to happen through trade or free agency or patience? Probably a little bit of it all, but probably not as much in free agency as people think." - Josh Byrnes.
With Josh Byrnes giving interviews to this end, the U-T's Bill Center seconding that sentiment, and Corey Brock quickly debunking a rumor that the Padres offered $17MM to Hiroki Kuroda, the dialogue focused around the Padres search for a mid to top-of-the-rotation starter seems to be converging on the likelihood that said hurler will arrive via trade, rather than free agency.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The other pitchers that stack up around Kuroda's level of production are going to command sums between $15-20MM per season, but unlike the 38-year old righty, they are going to get multi-year deals. For a team with a traditionally tight budget, and a window for contention that has yet to fully open, it would seem the money could be better saved than spent this offseason.
The Candidate: Rick Porcello
The trade market always has the potential to produce higher value relative to dollar investment. Recently, Rick Porcello has been a guy the Detroit Tigers have said they would be willing to shuffle. This move is aimed at gaining a bit of financial wiggle room to sign Anibal Sanchez, while plugging Drew Smyly into the back of the rotation for 2013 and beyond. Porcello is second-time arbitration eligible and will likely earn around $4.7MM in 2013, according to MLBTradeRumors.
Porcello's numbers don't jump off the page, but at 24, he will be entering his prime, and it's easy to see the underlying stats trending in the right direction. The K/9 has steadily risen while the walk rate continues to remain stable. The ground ball rate and home run rate each continue to move in the right direction as well. So, when it comes to the skills that contribute to pitcher success in the majors, it looks like Porcello is putting them together. The reason his era hasn't followed suit is down to luck and the increasingly poor defense of his teammates.
The Impact of Defense
Detroit has one of the most defensively challenged clubs you could hope to assemble. In 2012, their defense ranked 24th out of 30 clubs in terms of range (they cost their pitchers over 20 runs in this failure). They also failed to provide adequate run prevention in the form of arm strength, ranking second to last (-11.8 runs). Their cumulative overall defense ranked 27th, costing the Tigers a mind gagging total of 44 runs by UZR.
Meanwhile, the Padres have a Gold Glove third baseman, an average talent at first, and a maturing shortstop with range and an arm that absolutely can haz cheezburger. Anybody who watches the team knows that Cameron Maybin knows how to make a highlight reel. The only concern is that the team will likely feature a relative question mark at second in Jedd Gyorko. His minor league defesive numbers do seem to suggest he is at least average. All in all, even with the team's slow start defesively (with Hudson and Bartlett up the middle) the Friars ended up around middle of the pack. The team finished with a UZR of -15.
Comerica is a great place to pitch if you don't have that awful defense behind you. But Petco, even with the fences coming in, still figures to be a pitcher friendly environment as well, so not much change there. But pitchers almost always get a nice boost coming to the National League. This is especially true of the NL West, where Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, and AT&T suppress offense.
Given all the regression Porcello is due, the improvements he continues to make, and adjusting for the changes to his team's defense and the level of competition, it is very reasonable to assume that a move to San Diego would result in the lowest ERA of his career. Something around 3.75 is a sensible prediction.
As with any deal, things hinge on what you would have to be giving up in order to bring somebody in. According to most of the speculation surrounding the Tigers, it appears their top priority is acquiring a major league ready shortstop (a chip the Padres don't have to deal). But should Detroit get their man some other way, Porcello could still be available for the Friars later in the offseason.
*All stats from fangraphs.com