I can’t imagine I was the only baseball fan perplexed at the details of the massive four-year contract extension given to Rick Porcello by the Boston Red Sox back on April 6. Boston now owes its top starter — by default, of course — a staggering $82.5 million, starting in 2016. Out of the skepticism rose a fair amount of support for this signing, some even describing it as a shrewd financial maneuver for the Red Sox, who clearly desired to lock up their impending free agent before he threw his first regular season pitch with the team.
Just over 1,800 pitches later, Porcello’s 2015 season has failed to replicate his respectable 2014 campaign and the right-handed starter has somewhat predictably regressed into a miserable abyss (making my early March conjecture look rather spot-on). Porcello has immensely struggled in run prevention (5.81 ERA) and his home run rate has spiked dramatically (1.57 HR/9; up from 0.79 HR/9 in 2014). Before you disregard that development due to the disposition of Fenway Park, consider that the sinker-baller is capitulating fewer ground balls than at any point in his seven-year career.
An inflated yield of fly balls and a paltry strikeout rate — Porcello’s 7.22 K/9 rate is actually an improvement from a year ago, yet still underwhelming — isn’t a particularly favorable combination for a pitcher who lives on the corners with his 90 mph fastball and is slated to make half of his starts over the next four seasons in the most hitter-friendly ballpark in Major League Baseball. Regardless of any apparent deterioration, there’s positively nothing in Porcello’s track record that suggests he’s worth that kind of money — $20 million in 2016, $20MM in 2017, $21MM in 2018, $21MM in 2019.
Porcello has compiled a career ERA of 4.45 – albeit a moderately preferable FIP of 4.09 – and a 2.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even though he’s stayed remarkably healthy, Porcello has eclipsed the 200-inning plateau just once (204.2 IP in 2014), indicating his lack of overall dependability. The initial supporters of this extension – their sentiments echo a bit softer now – pointed out Porcello’s age (26) and the increasing standard salaries for starting pitchers as an explanation for this stupidity, but there’s simply no realistic way to justify Ben Cherington’s decision.
Aside from Cliff Lee‘s sizable club option, there are only eight starting pitchers who are currently slated to command a higher salary in 2016 than Rick Porcello. That total could shift a bit once David Price and Johnny Cueto agree to new deals, but it’s undeniable that this kind of money puts Porcello into the elite-level group of starting pitchers, a place he simply doesn’t deserve to be. Porcello will earn more than Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright, and Madison Bumgarner, among many, many others next season.
Boston’s reconstructive efforts in regards to their rotation over the past year have monumentally failed and it will take time for the organization to regain stability in this department. Regardless of their lavish payroll, investing this kind of money in a lackluster starter is a hampering circumstance. The argument that Porcello fits the mold of a prototypical Boston starting pitcher may be entirely valid — his recent run prevention numbers are bound to improve slightly — however, at best, he’s a back-end starter and worth less than half of the salary he’ll be receiving.
Ultimately, the Red Sox will likely attempt to ameliorate their shortcomings by attracting expensive free agents or through major off-season trades, but their disastrous recent acquisitions and financial commitments will catch up to them at some point in their rebuilding attempts. Porcello’s contract is one that will be extremely difficult to move and likely look progressively worse in future seasons. It may not be the end of the world for one of the most affluent organizations in the game, but it is, without a doubt, an unmistakable setback.