Rick Porcello, who turns 31 in late December, is now a free agent. He is coming off his worst season (5.52 ERA, 31 home runs allowed). Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Call it the Rick Porcello dilemma.

The Boston Red Sox could make a small bet on Porcello, a one-year deal low in guarantees but high in incentives to lure the durable right-hander back to Boston.

But there are so many layers to this situation that what the Red Sox choose to do with Porcello could tell us exactly where their offseason is headed.

A free agent for the first time in his career and about to turn 31, Porcello is coming off what was undoubtedly the worst season of his career. He averaged just 5 1/3 innings per start while allowing 31 home runs in 174 1/3 innings with a 5.52 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.

Porcello has always represented reliability. He averaged more than six innings per start over five years in Boston and only once went on the injured list (for four weeks in 2015 with a strained right triceps).

The Red Sox rotation as currently constructed is anything but reliable.

• David Price (elbow, forearm, wrist) has been on the injured list four times in the last four years, averaging 24 starts per season.

• Nathan Eovaldi (elbow, biceps) has been on the injured list every year since 2015, averaging 18 starts per season.

• Chris Sale (shoulder, elbow) has been on the injured list three times in three years, averaging 28 starts per season, and is the biggest risk entering 2020 after a visit to Dr. James Andrews resulted in a platelet-rich plasma injection that may or may not fix the problem.

Even if those three Red Sox starters perform to the averages listed above, they’d still miss a combined 29 starts next year.

What that means is that if the Sox are intent on competing (while keeping one eye on rebuilding; let’s call it a bridge year), they’d have to find not only a fifth starter to handle a full starter’s workload, but also a reserve starter capable of covering 29 missed starts.

This is why the Porcello dilemma could be so telling.

Bringing Porcello back on a small one-year deal makes sense. It gives them a durable innings eater, someone capable of performing much better than he did in 2019. He’s a pitcher with below-average velocity but above-average spin rate. His curveball is capable of being a strong out pitch, and when he’s spotting his two-seamers and four-seamers, he can pitch at an All-Star level.

There’s also the benefit of having a well-known professional work ethic and positive clubhouse presence, two things that aren’t accounted for in StatCast data but still very much matter.

If new pitching coach Dave Bush can help Porcello unlock his potential, the Red Sox could ride him into contention for a wild-card spot or trade him at the deadline and acquire some much-needed prospect capital.

It would be a very Billy-Beane-esque type of signing, with the idea that competing this year may not be realistic, but Porcello could have surplus value on a small one-year contract either way.

Then there’s the argument that signing Porcello would be a mistake.

Even if he does take something like a $6 million base salary loaded with incentives, that’s $6 million that the Sox need to clear elsewhere. They’re so strapped up against the $208 million luxury tax threshold that they don’t have but a roll of quarters to spare in their spending this offseason.

And given the Yankees will surely be involved in the top-tier free agents like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg on their way to beefing up a roster that won 19 more games than the Red Sox in 2019, shouldn’t the Sox be looking for hidden gems instead of aging steel?

If the same contract would bring 39-year-old Rich Hill back home to Boston, there’s an argument to be made that the higher upside of Hill, despite the injury risks and redundancy in another left-hander, is more valuable to a team trying to close such a wide gap in the division.

Finally, the third option (and probably the most likely option given Chaim Bloom’s desire for sustainability) is to avoid veteran free agents altogether and simply get younger.

There are potential trades to be made while unloading players on the big league roster that would bring some young starting pitching to Boston. And if the Sox are truly going to have a bridge year, with the goal in mind to get better for 2021 and beyond, it makes much more sense to find some untested starting pitchers and see what they can do with regular reps in the big leagues.

That’s largely why Bloom was brought here from Tampa Bay, where young pitchers grow on trees and the Rays experiment in search of low-cost contributors.

Keep an eye on the Red Sox’s efforts in the back-end starting pitching market, and with Porcello specifically. It should be telling about where Bloom wants to take the franchise in the immediate future.

RED SOX pitchers and catchers will report to Fort Myers on Feb. 12, the team announced. The club’s first full squad workout at the Fenway South complex is scheduled for Feb. 17.

The annual Truck Day – when the equipment truck leaves from Fenway Park for Fort Myers – is scheduled for Feb. 3, the day after the Super Bowl. Sox players will likely start arriving in Fort Myers that week.

The Red Sox will return to JetBlue Park at Fenway South for the ninth straight season, playing 18 home spring training games before the regular season begins March 26 in Toronto. The spring opener is Feb. 21 at 1:05 p.m. against Northeastern with the Grapefruit League opener scheduled for Feb. 22 at 1:05 p.m. against the Rays.

Highlights of the spring schedule include matchups with the Yankees on Feb. 29 (home) and March 3 (away) and a 6:05 p.m. start against the Orioles at JetBlue Park on Feb. 21. Spring training tickets will go on sale Dec. 7 at 10 a.m.

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