Tigers should preserve their young talent

The Tigers should not only hold onto top prospects Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia, but also pitchers Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

DETROIT — When teams either don’t develop top prospects or trade them away, they become the New York Yankees. They become totally dependent on the free agent market to fill holes and stay strong, and that can be a crap shoot — even for the Yankees with their nearly unlimited funds.

That’s why it logically makes sense for the Tigers to not only hold onto top outfield prospects Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia, but also starting pitchers Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. These are the players who will breathe life into the franchise in upcoming years, and provide exciting replacements when starters go down with the inevitable injuries.

Right now, the Tigers are having trouble finding a full-time spot for either Garcia or Castellanos, but in 2015 they could easily be starting in the corners. Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline has been about as high on Castellanos as anyone to come through the organization, and Garcia hit .319 in his late-season call-up while showing a great glove and arm. It’s not totally far-fetched that one of them knocks everybody’s socks off and becomes the starting left fielder as early as next year.

In regards to the starting rotation, either Porcello or Smyly will be the fifth starter in 2013. One of them figures into the immediate future.

Porcello, who turns 24 on Thursday, is unique in that he’s been a significant part of the team’s past but remains so young that he has to be considered a part of the future. He is 48-42 and has pitched in so many big games for a young hurler. Remember his strong start in Game 163 as a rookie 14-game winner in 2009?

After signing Anibal Sanchez as the No. 4 starter for five years at $80 million, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski noted that there were “numerous” suitors for Porcello. Then the GM added a clarification on possibly dealing Porcello: “We’re not going to do something just to do something.”

In other words, Dombrowski is not looking to move Porcello for a couple of so-so minor leaguers.

That’s a good thing because I have a hunch that Porcello is going to make an impact for the Tigers next year if they keep him. Look for him to get that slider over consistently in continued work with pitching coach Jeff Jones, and bounce back from the 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA of 2012. He’s just too young and too good to stay down.

Don’t forget that Justin Verlander, at 25, was 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA in 2008.

Now, it is no question that Detroit’s starting infield continues to have perhaps as little range as any in the majors, and Porcello remains a ground-ball pitcher. But I also have faith in Porcello. It’s easy to support players coming off productive years, but more meaningful to do so when they are coming off a clunker and you simply believe they are better than that.

Porcello’s 226 hits and .310 opponent batting average were the most allowed by an AL pitcher. But he gave up 210 hits and a .292 average in 2011 and went 14-9.

Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com wrote recently that the Mariners, Orioles and Padres have shown interest in Porcello.

Names Morosi mentioned as possible returns from the Padres are closer Huston Street and outfielder Chris Denorfia, a right-handed hitter who batted .293 last year in 348 at-bats and would platoon quite nicely with Andy Dirks in left field. Street was the 2005 AL Rookie of the Year for the A’s and last year had 23 saves and a terrific 0.718 WHIP with 47 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 39 innings with San Diego.

Street would fill the need for a seasoned closer. Dombrowski, however, sounds intent to give hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon first crack at that, believing he can have the kind of first season that Street once had in that high-pressure role.

Though, Street is the kind of talent that the Tigers should trade Porcello for in some kind of package deal. Street would be a significant upgrade at closer. If you are going to give up Porcello, that’s what you need in return.

The difficulty in keeping both Porcello and Smyly (who has an edge as a lefty) is what you do with one of them if spring training concludes with six healthy starters.

Smyly, 23, could go back to Toledo to stay in a rotation. But what’s the point of that? He was 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 18 starts and 23 games for Detroit during the regular season, and then pitched so tough in relief against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Porcello also conceivably could be sent to Triple-A, and he was sent there for four starts in 2010 to get back on track. But keeping him down on the farm for very long doesn’t appear to make sense either.

So, the club could keep the odd-man out in the bullpen as the long reliever at first. If that pitcher excels in the bullpen, he could get more late-inning responsibility. Hey, some very high profile starters (Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz) ended up becoming great closers.

Those are all tough decisions to make, but good ones. That’s what happens when you have talent – you deal from areas of strength.

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