PHILADELPHIA — Rick Porcello is more than a rental.
The Red Sox announced they’ve signed the 26-year-old righthander to a four-year contract extension. The deal, which will be worth a total of $82.5 million according to a major league source, will take effect in 2016, with Porcello receiving a $500,000 signing bonus and annual salaries of $20 million in 2016 and 2017, then $21 million in 2018 and 2019.
The structure of the deal would permit the Sox to have Porcello under contract from age 26 through 30 (beginning with this season, when he remains under contract for $12.5 million) while permitting Porcello to reach the open market, if he so chooses, at an atypically young age.
Porcello had a potentially fascinating opportunity ahead of him as a free agent given that few pitchers ever have reached the open market with his track record. He’s spent almost six full years in the big leagues already, having been entrusted with a spot in the Tigers’ rotation at the start of the 2009 season, and save for a brief stint in the minors in 2010, he’s remained both healthy and productive enough to make 180 starts before turning 26.
A good year could have positioned Porcello for a nine-figure payday, but as he became familiar with his new team, he felt little compulsion to visit the possibility.
“I knew the opportunity in entering free agency, but when I had first got to camp and saw the way [things were done] from ownership to [GM Ben Cherington] to the coaching staff and the players that were there, and how everything was run from top to bottom, and the devotion to win a World Series, I knew that was something I wanted particularly to be a part of,” said Porcello. “It wasn’t a very difficult decision for me at that point to stay here.”
The Sox already had been impressed by Porcello’s track record. Once everyone got to know him, their impressions only became more favorable.
“Aside from the pitcher that he is, which obviously we really like, getting to know Rick more over the course of the winter and spring, he has a lot of qualities we really admire,” said Cherington. “We felt like he was the type of person we want here, one of the type of guys we want here, and we see him as a really important part of our team the next several years.
“What we see is a driven, incredibly competitive guy, a team-first guy, wants nothing more than to win, does everything he can do to put himself in a position to help the team win. As we got to know him as a person as much as a pitcher, it just motivated us probably even more to try to get something done.
“We were trying to work towards something that worked for everyone and we’re just really happy that we did. We’re extremely happy that he’s going to be a Red Sox for a long time.”
The deal matches the five-year, $82.5 million deal for John Lackey for the largest guarantee ever given by this ownership group to a pitcher. The $20.625 million average annual value represents the team’s largest annual salary ever conferred upon a hurler.
The 2007 first-round pick owns a career 76-63 record with a 4.30 ERA, though as a groundball pitcher, his numbers were at times made worse by a porous Tigers infield defense. Indeed, it seems like something other than coincidence that his career-best 2014 campaign – with career highs in wins (15) and innings (204⅔ ) – came in a year in which Detroit upgraded its infield defense.
Already, the righthander has a track record of noteworthy consistency. Porcello ranks as just the third pitcher since 1900 to have at least 10 wins in each of his first six seasons before turning 26, joining Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Bert Blyleven. No other pitcher has made 25 or more starts in each of his first six big league seasons before turning 26.
Given Porcello’s age and experience, there are some precedents to suggest he’s ready to take a leap forward.
The Sox, certainly, have been singularly impressed with the pitcher since acquiring him from the Tigers in December for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, righthander Alex Wilson, and minor league lefty Gabe Speier. He fits the team’s desired risk profile perfectly as someone whose age suggests a greater likelihood of being an ace in the next five years, even if he hasn’t performed to that level in the prior five seasons.
Porcello will make his regular-season Sox debut Wednesday night vs. the Phillies. Whereas that had a chance to be the start of a one-and-done Sox career, it now appears to mark the beginning of a lengthy tenure with the Sox. Porcello is eager to start holding up his end of the bargain.
“I feel very confident in my ability, the development, the different things I’ve gone through over the first six years I’ve spent in the big leagues,” he said. “I work as hard as I can possibly work and I prepare myself to the best of my ability. I’ll continue to do that as long as I’m playing this game.”
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.