One of the big question marks for the Detroit Tigers heading in to the 2013 season is exactly what role Rick Porcello will have with the team—if he is even still with the Tigers when the season starts.

The Tigers have tried the entire offseason to unload the 24-year-old pitcher, but have yet to hear an offer they are willing to take.

Entering his fifth season in Detroit, Porcello has started at least 27 games in each of his first four seasons. After reportedly settling with the club for $5.1 million and avoiding arbitration, that is not bad money for someone who figures to be their No. 5 starter.

Ideally, the Tigers would like to get either a better defensive option at shortstop or a viable closer.

Before the winter meetings, it had been speculated that Detroit would ship Porcello to the Pittsburgh Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan. That deal never happened and Pittsburgh eventually dealt Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox.

Other teams that have shown interest include the Arizona Diamondbacks (via Nick Piecoro) and the San Diego Padres (via Bill Center), but both seemed to back off rather quickly when hearing what the Tigers would like in return.

Porcello’s biggest problem is he really does not fool that many hitters.

In 176.1 innings last year, Porcello gave up a league-high 226 hits. He also does not strike out many batters, fanning just 107 last year—which was a career high.

Another worry that teams might have is that Porcello has 691.2 innings on his arm. For a pitcher who has yet to hit the prime of his career, that is an awful lot of mileage in a short period of time.

The other big concern is that his hits per nine innings ratio has gone up every season since entering the league. 

When he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2009, he averaged just 9.3 hits per nine innings. After two seasons of seeing that number rise to 10.4, it rose last year to a high of 11.5.

Those are numbers for a pitcher whose career is headed in the wrong direction.

For someone who was so obviously shopped around and is still under team salary control until the 2015 season, it seems like the Tigers have overestimated the market for Porcello.

So is having Porcello around a bad thing? The short answer is no.

As good as the Tigers’ starting pitching is on paper, a team can never have enough depth to fill holes when injuries come about.

Likely fighting with Drew Smyly for that fifth spot in the rotation in spring training, Porcello could easily become an innings-eater out of the pen to start the season or take the spot in the back end if one of the other five starters misses any time.

Another scenario for the Detroit is to see what the situation is at the July trade deadline. Teams could be willing to overpay for Porcello for a chance at a playoff spot if they are desperate enough.

The fact that the Tigers and Porcello settled before his arbitration hearing says that Detroit is more than willing to hold on to him for the time being.

While it is doubtful that the Tigers will sign him to a deal that would go into his free agency years at this point, a strong 2013 performance could make Porcello that much more expensive or a lot more valuable on the trade market.

Follow Ron on Twitter @ronjuckett

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