Monday wrapup: Where the closer situation and the Porcello situation intersect

Rick Porcello (AP)

This is what a lot of scouts at Joker Marchant Stadium were looking at on Monday. (AP)

One of the easiest ways to break up the Groundhog Day type of feel you get in the middle of Spring Training — you know, when every day feels the same — is a day when a lot of scouts arrive. It’s not just about trade rumors, though Rick Porcello’s situation is bound to create that. It’s about the discussion.

Yes, a lot of scouts came to Joker Marchant Stadium on Monday, more than a half-dozen, way more than you’d expect for a Tigers-Astros tilt. Part of the reason was a light schedule in the Grapefruit League, just five games with the Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Nationals and Marlins off. Some scouts came in to get a head start on their organization reports. More scouts came on looking at Porcello. The Rangers had somebody there, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal, as did the Yankees, and the Phillies, and more teams after that.

Bring in a lot of scouts, and you get a lot of attention on the Tigers. You also get a lot of views on what the Tigers should do with their closer situation and with the Porcello situation.

While the Tigers took batting practice Monday morning, I talked with two veteran scouts who were at the park to do their work. Neither of them believe Bruce Rondon is ready to take over the closer role, and that was about it on what they agreed on.

One scout believes the Tigers probably can’t go into the season with their bullpen as is. He believes in a strong closer, a proven one for a veteran club, and believes they’d be better off trading for somebody than trying to piece together a closer mix from their existing parts. He also thinks Porcello could get them somebody — if not a proven closer, then somebody with the combination of arm and relief success to probably handle.

The other scout is a believer in the anyone-can-close philosophy. A good reliever, he says, can get you 25 saves in a season no problem, and he can cite examples. He says the Tigers will be fine with the group of veteran relievers they have, and that they should ease in Rondon with seventh- and eighth-inning work while others handle the closer work. He’s more concerned with the Tigers’ starting pitching depth than he is the closer situation. Not only should they not feel the need to trade for a closer, the scout argued, they shouldn’t feel the need to trade Porcello. Between the average number of starters a team uses over the course of a season, and the complete void he sees with insurance starters in the Tigers farm system, they should hold onto the depth they’ve got. He didn’t call trading for a closer a fool’s game, but he could tell you deals that backfired.

These two separate conversations with almost completely opposing views took place maybe 15 minutes apart while the Tigers took BP. They were the most interesting part of the day.

Neither of them combined the two arguments and suggested Rick Porcello as a closer. That came after BP when a reporter asked Jim Leyland about it. Nobody saw his answer coming, not when his long pause suggested somebody summoning his patience.

“I don’t know that that’s necessarily a wild thought,” Leyland answered.

That got some people looking up from their notepads. Considering Leyland is not an anybody-can-close believer, and even made the case Monday that outs 25-27 are way different than outs 22-24, the Porcello thing was stunning.

It doesn’t mean the Tigers are seriously looking at it, though Leyland mentioned as far back as the winter caravan in January that Porcello could end up in the bullpen if he didn’t win the fifth starter job. But if you’re one of those people who remembers the scouting reports about Porcello throwing in the mid-90s in high school, and you’ve wondered where that fastball went or if it ever existed, it’s quite a thought.

At least it got a better answer from Leyland than the Jose Valverde rumor did on Monday.

“That’s not in the picture,” Leyland said. “Trust me. That has not even been discussed.”

Personally, I doubt the Porcello idea has been discussed, either. If it had, somebody probably would’ve suggested to Porcello that he mix in more sliders by now to complement his fastball. Still, keep it in mind. If you can’t, don’t worry, because we’ll all probably remind you about it a few times as this closer saga — and this Porcello saga — chug along.

One thing for sure: That Groundhog Day feel to Spring Training was gone.

15 Comments

The scout report:

http://www.milb.com/milb/events/draft_report/y2007/index.jsp?mc=porcello

Supposedly , he was asked to drop his fastball
And he did it for the two-seam:

http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfx.aspx?playerid=2717&position=P

well – i’d go with Ricky as the closer over Don Kelly (my “outside the box” closer idea)……but JL sure does like DK

I like or agreed with the second scout where we should baby Rondon and keep Procello for pitching depth.I would go with Dotel and Coke in the 9th until Benoit heats up.

Completely agree with the 2nd scout. Tigers starting pitching depth is an issue, especially after #6. Also, closers are completely over rated. Porcello as a closer for a while is an interesting thought (Braves did it successfully with Smoltz).
Has the price tag on Soriano gone down? Is he pitching in the WBC?

oops, just looked up Soriano and saw he signed with Washington. Good move by the Nats. I must have been sleeping that week.

Nicely written piece, Jason. Of the two sides presented, I’d side with the second scout. Seems to me a closer could be designated for each series. Just as Coke had success against the LH heavy Yankees, our reliever’s individual strengths could be matched against the opposing clubs weaknesses. Just as you’d use Coke against NY, you wouldn’t use Porcello against a team with a lot of speed. That nightmarish Sunday in Cleveland last September comes to mind.
Bottom line, they can’t afford to lose Porcello without a replacement, and that’s a redundancy. I’m afraid ol’ Jim will have to do a lot of managing this season. That’s what he gets paid for.

one interesting side question is how to get the best roster value for the loser of the 5th starter battle. where does either Smyly or Porcello fit in the bullpen? being the long man seems natural, but that’s more of a mopup role when the starter gets bombed. could either one be used in the 7th inning or beyond to give extra depth to the late inning reliever corps? would using them in that manner cause problems with resuming a starting role if needed?

While I like the idea of going with a guy for a series like rich suggested, but I also think getting a ‘closer role’ established by the ASB is going to make it easier.

I want Luke Gregerson. If I can get other pieces (e.g. legit RHB OF, AAA starter) besides him (for porcello) then i might be OK with letting one of the top OF prospects go.

The big problem with closers s is like the SS issue. Good ones are few and far between and just thank your lucky stars if they fall in your lap.
Exposing the bare starters cupboard for a 2nd tier closer (we couldn’t afford a top tier and no ones giving them up now anyway) would be the dumbest move of all time.
Worst case, we definitely have enough pieces to muddle through for a mid season short term rental.

You should always trade your surpluses, we have an bundance of LF( Dirks, Boesch, Collins), relievers at ever level and we also have a spare catcher in the minors.

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