Matthew Boyd has been a fascinating case study for Tigers fans ever since he arrived in Detroit in 2015. He profiles like a soft-tossing lefthander, with a plus changeup and a couple of usable breaking balls to go along with a somewhat funky delivery. But Boyd has plenty of heat in that left arm; his four-seam fastball averaged nearly 93 miles per hour last year and topped out north of 96 mph. He has the raw stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starter, but has only shown flashes of that potential; through 302 2⁄3 career innings, Boyd is still below replacement level.
Things may have changed, though. We noted Boyd’s mechanical adjustments last fall, which helped him post a 2.95 ERA in six September starts. He has maintained that lower release point through three starts in 2018, and has a 1.40 ERA to show for it. We can dive into the numbers later — short answer: advanced metrics don’t like him — but his performance this season has raised an interesting (and important) question: should the Tigers consider trading Boyd for prospects this summer?
His age is the main reason
At 27, Boyd is already entering his prime years. He is still cost-controlled through the 2022 season, when the Tigers will hopefully be contending again. The problem? Boyd will be 31 when he reaches free agency, and not much younger than that if the Tigers return to contention a couple years earlier. While there are plenty of starters that have stayed productive into their 30s, others have fallen off not long after hitting the wrong side of 30. Extending him beyond those years of club control would be risky as well, as he would only be pushing deeper into his 30s.
Meanwhile, a contending team would benefit from the value Boyd provides right now, during his peak seasons. He could be a valuable addition for a pitching-starved roster right now — looking at you, Angels — and still offer teams a few years of club control. He wouldn’t cost that contender the same king’s ransom a Michael Fulmer would, and doesn’t carry the same injury history that many other starters do.
How much will a contending team give up?
The Tigers could undoubtedly find a suitor for Boyd if they called enough teams, but finding one that will give them good value may prove difficult. The offseason free agent market was ice cold, and trade prices for established pitchers weren’t much better. Returns for Gerrit Cole and Jake Odorizzi were considered light, and both pitchers have a much longer track record of success than Boyd. While an up-and-coming prospect like Jermaine Palacios (the return for Odorizzi) could be interesting, the Tigers should hope for a bit more value in exchange for Boyd.
The key may be Boyd’s remaining service time. He still has four years of club control left after 2018, a number that we don’t normally see from a player on the trade block. While teams may be paying more for Boyd’s potential than his actual production, a more proactive front office may look to get ahead of the curve on an emerging lefthander who will be cost-controlled through his entire prime. It will be up to Tigers general manager Al Avila to sell high on Boyd’s value if other teams come calling.
Boyd will have to continue pitching well for this to work
This one probably goes without saying, but Boyd will need to prove that his new arm slot is more than just a flash in the pan. He has put up great numbers in his last nine regular season starts, but his overall numbers are still very mediocre. Even his numbers in August 2017, immediately preceding this current hot stretch, resulted in an 8.75 ERA. Advanced metrics like xFIP and SIERA indicate that Boyd’s 2018 ERA should be over 5.00. He has a .132 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season, and is allowing hard contact on over 32 percent of balls in play.
Boyd’s ERA will rise at some point — the question is whether he can avoid some of the bad starts in the past that have ballooned his numbers. If he is able to show that the improvements he has made over the past several months are for real, he might find himself the subject of a trade rumor or two come July.