Rick Porcello is a Met. He opted not to re-sign in Boston, probably partially because it’s easier to rebuild his value in the NL East than the AL East and probably more because the Red Sox weren’t willing to offer him the $10 million he got from New York. There were arguments for and arguments against keeping him, and we can continue that conversation until we’re red in the face if that’s what you’re into. I’m not, though. It’s done. Now, all we do is look back at his five-year Red Sox career. As I do that and try to sort of conveniently wrap it up, all I can really conclude is that it was weird as hell, man.
Even if we go all the way back to him first getting to Boston is strange. This was the period of time — prior to 2015 — when the Red Sox were selling, but not really for young talent. The closest they came to that was trading John Lackey for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, which, you know. They also traded Jon Lester for Yoenis Céspedes, who then was flipped a few months later for Porcello. I mention that becuase Céspedes is, without a doubt, the best player to ever player for the Red Sox who I consistently forget played for the Red Sox. So, yeah, that’s weird.
There was some controversy around that trade, too, with Porcello not really being all that exciting of a pitcher and Céspedes being a really exciting outfielder, albeit inconsistent on the field. That the Red Sox then turned around and gave Porcello a four-year, $80 million contract extension before he played a game for the team only turned the volume up on the Porcello Discourse. In fact, we are five years in the future and the extension just ended (it didn’t go into effect until his second season in Boston) and we still have no idea what to make of the contract. I think that kind of gets to the crux of the Porcello era in Boston. The up-and-down performance, which we’ll get to, was weird, but that it was paired with such a divisive contract extension that came before we even got to develop opinions on him as a pitcher just exacerbated the entire situation.
If you are arguing in favor of the contract, or simply looking back at Porcello’s time in Boston fondly, there are extreme highs for you to look at. Obviously it starts with 2016, when he won the damn Cy Young. In twenty years, I have little doubt we will look back at that as the strangest thing to happen in this era of Red Sox baseball. I stand by the idea that this season from Porcello, while not the best in the American League that year in my estimation, has been underrated by the baseball internet in general. It’s often called to attention he only won because of his 22 wins. That definitely helped him in voting and was probably a reason many voted for him, but it takes away from the fact that he was legitimately awesome that year. Again, not the best in the AL, but close enough in a relatively weak year for AL pitchers that it’s not a travesty he won. Obviously I’m biased, but I will go to my grave feeling that way.
You also have 2018, which went well for pretty much everyone on the Red Sox. Porcello was not Cy Young-caliber this season — he finished more league-average — but he stayed healthy all year and was solid most times out. He had some big starts through the regular season, including a gem against in the Yankees as Boston put them away in the division, too. The postseason is where he really took the next step, though. He gets overshadowed now, and I hope this changes as we get further away from the championship, but he was such a massive part of the early run in the postseason. Nathan Eovaldi gets a ton of well-deserved adulation for his constant flipping between the bullpen and rotation in the ALCS and World Series. Rick Porcello was the first one to do that, though, coming through in huge, late-inning spots in Game One of the ALDS and Game Two of the ALCS. He had one mediocre outing in the playoffs, but he was lights out in his other four and was a huge part of that run.
Of course, on the flip side, Porcello spent plenty of time among the worst starting pitchers in the game. His first season in Boston was a disaster, finishing with an 87 ERA+ and giving ammo to anyone who criticized the extension. The 2017 season wasn’t as bad as it felt, but he was still below average and gave up a ton of hard contact on a consistent basis. He also led the league in losses, which isn’t indicative of a ton but kind of symbolizes how it felt watching him. Last year, of course, was another horrible season where he had a lot of uncharacteristic control issues and again finished with an 87 ERA+.
To sum that up, he was bad-to-very-bad in three of his five seasons with the Red Sox. On its own, it’s hard to spin that positively. Then you add the context of the other two seasons being a Cy Young campaign and one in which he was a key part of the most successful team in 20 years, and, well, things get more complicated.
So, to get back to the question that hung over Porcello’s entire time here: Was his contract worth it? I still don’t really know. I do think it’s hard to definitively say no, both because the market for pitching has made $20 million not look like it once did and also because the high highs were just so satisfying. But I also understand the people on the other side, because I also sat through all of those starts in those other three years. So I guess I still don’t really have a clear answer here.
Ultimately, Porcello was who he was, which is to say we never really know. He always made all of his starts and he always took the same spring training picture, but that was about it. At the end of the day he was a pitcher whose numbers in Boston ended up being essentially league-average after years of being anything but. We’ll always appreciate those good times, though, and hopefully as the years go by those start to significantly outshine the bad ones.