By Johnny Carey, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Rick Porcello was bad last year. Really bad. His first season in Boston perfectly summarized the 2015 Red Sox: over-hyped and underwhelming. But is there any reason to believe in Porcello moving forward?
Well, that all depends upon your expectations for him. Weirdly enough, if you have the same expectations for Porcello as former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, you should hold on to your few remaining shards of belief. Porcello can still be the pitcher the Red Sox signed him to be. Yes, it’s hard to fathom that idea, but give it a shot. (It isn’t necessarily a good thing.)
Porcello was never projected to become an ace, yet he was inexplicably paid like one by Cherington & Co.
Last April, Porcello signed a four-year, $82.5 million dollar contract extension (that didn’t kick in until this year), after being acquired from Detroit in a trade for Yoenis Cespedes. He was paid, for the lack of a better term, “Ace money.”
There are generally very high expectations that come with a contract of that nature. The huge number signaled a belief among Red Sox fans that Porcello could eventually become the team’s ace. After all, that’s what it should have meant. $82.5 million generally isn’t chump change to be thrown around at every pitcher with some semblance of potential.
Massive expectations driven by the deal’s equally massive numbers existed from the fans’ perspective, but it never appeared that those expectations were the same within the Red Sox organization.
Last year, Cherington was asked whether or not he believed that Porcello could be an elite pitcher. His answer wasn’t so convincing.
“We think he’s a very talented pitcher who is driven to succeed and driven to be as good as he possibly can be,” Cherington said. “As I mentioned before, any negotiation has all sorts of variables. Performance is one of them. Talent is one of them. Age. A team’s needs. All are variables to consider.”
Uhh. … So … no? “Porcello is not an ace” is all that can be garnered from that. But he’s coming into his prime! He has some potential to maybe become a number two! He’ll try to be “as good as he possibly can be.” You want to pay that guy 20-plus million dollars a year?
One year later, the contract extension makes even less sense than before.
Still, there are arguments to be made for Porcello in 2016. If you’re able to look past the absurd contract numbers, he could be that guy who Cherington seemed to think he would be.
Porcello missed significant time last season with a triceps injury, which the team believes held him back from being the pitcher he wanted to be.
Whether that’s true or not, there’s no denying that Porcello was solid once he came back from the DL. He posted a 3.14 ERA over his last eight starts of the season, and was essentially the exact pitcher Cherington wanted him to be. He utilized his sinker to keep the ball down, and kept the team in position to win.
Players who are given massive deals after performing at a very high level for years are easy to become agitated with. (Cough, Hanley, cough, Pablo.) In Porcello’s case, however, it makes more sense for the frustration to lie with the organization that signed him to the deal — the organization that thought it would be a great idea to pay a career 4.30 ERA (at the time) pitcher 20-plus million dollars per year is to blame.
It’s hard to see Porcello ever becoming a pitcher that will justify a $20-plus million a year contract, but it may not be that far-fetched to believe Porcello may become exactly the pitcher Boston wanted him to be last offseason. Paying a potentially quality mid-rotation starter as if he were an ace is part of the reason why Ben Cherington is no longer in Boston, but his odd vision of an over-priced, solid starter does still have a chance to come to fruition.
Tapering your expectations (hatred) for Porcello in 2016 could lead to a satisfying season. He isn’t the sexy story this year, as there’s plenty more to focus on with David Price or Clay Buchholz or Eduardo Rodriguez.
But he’s still coming into his prime … he still has some potential to maybe become a number two … he’ll still try to be “as good as he possibly can be.” You don’t want that type of guy for $20-plus million per year, but there’s no dancing around the fact that, like it or not, Rick Porcello’s performance will be crucial to the team’s success in 2016.
Johnny Carey is a senior at Boston College. You can find him on Twitter @JohnnyHeights.