Tigers’ Porcello will be oh so close to free agency

The Detroit Tigers could be facing double jeopardy this offseason. They could have the two biggest winners on their pitching staff both hitting the free agent market in November.

You know all about Max Scherzer (11-3), who turned down a six-year deal for $144 million in spring training and will become the object of every team with deep pockets in four months.

But did you know that Rick Porcello (12-5) will end up being just two days short of free agent eligibility for the 2015 season?

Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila examined Porcello’s contract to determine why he won’t become a free agent after completing his sixth season in the majors.

"He will not be a free agent after this year because he will not have the total number of days to qualify," Avila wrote in an email. "One hundred and 72 days equals one year of service. Porcello will miss it by 2 days.

"So he has one more year before he becomes a free agent."

I asked Porcello, who starts Tuesday night at Arizona against the Diamondbacks, about his come-close situation.

"I knew I wasn’t going to be a free agent after this year," Porcello said. "But I didn’t know it was that close, two days. But it is what it is.

"But it’s a kind of nice thought to say I will be here for another year at least."

That last comment explains why Porcello is so popular both with Detroit fans and throughout the organization. Two days is costing him a big, multi-year contract this winter. And yet he finds contentedness in knowing he will be spending 2015 with a team he truly loves being part of.

Would he like to sign a multi-year deal this winter, foregoing free agency for stability?

"I’m not going to comment on that now," Porcello said. "That’s too far away to get caught up in.

"But what I will say is that this organization is second to none. They’ve been an honor to play for, and I’d like to continue here."

Porcello was optioned to Toledo on June 20, 2010 and made four starts for the Mud Hens before being recalled July 17, four days after that year’s All-Star Game. Had his demotion come at another time of the year, he might have been called back two days earlier and become a free agent for 2015. But the All-Star break four years ago quite possibly kept that from happening.

"It was about me and the way I was pitching at the time," Porcello said. "I needed that kick in the butt."

Porcello was 4-7 with a 6.14 ERA when sent down, and worked on all of his pitches with Toledo pitching coach A.J. Sager and minor league pitching coordinator Jon Matlack. Upon returning, Porcello was 6-5 with a 4.00 ERA the rest of the way.

"I had to take multiple steps back in order to move forward," said Porcello. "But I really needed that time there to focus on what I needed to get done. And, if you remember, Max also went down to Toledo that year."

Scherzer pitched two games for the Mud Hens in a brief tune-up, but had enough combined major league service time with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008 and 2009 to enter this season with 79 more days than he will need to become a free agent in 2015.

Porcello will have to settle for getting a hefty raise on a one-year deal unless he does sign a long-term deal this winter. He’s making $8.5 million this season, and arbitration leverage will enable Porcello to possibly approach the $15.5 million Scherzer received this year after winning the 2013 Cy Young Award.

He’s 73-55 for the Tigers, and could win 80 games before turning 26 in December. Only Felix Hernandez (86), Clayton Kershaw (77) and CC Sabathia (76) have won more games before turning 26, and all three are Cy Young winners.

I knew I wasn’t going to be a free agent after this year, but I didn’t know it was that close.

Rick Porcello

Porcello’s never won more than 14 in one season, but was tied at the All-Star break for the most wins in the majors at 12 with Adam Wainwright, Masahiro Tanaka and Alfredo Simon. And Porcello’s 3.39 ERA compares very favorably to those of teammates Scherzer (3.34) and Anibal Sanchez (3.22).

"It’s something I’m very proud of — to be contributing to this team in such a positive way," Porcello said. "But a lot has to go right for you to win this many games, and the offense has delivered for me on many nights.

"On a lot of nights, it’s just, ‘Get some outs and don’t screw it up.’"

Porcello smiled in saying that, and it’s evident he’s having a great time as a Tiger. Life is good, even if he’s going to be two days shy of free agency.

Tuesday night’s Tigers-Diamondbacks game begins at 9:40 on FOX Sports Detroit, with Tigers Live at 8:30.