Well, here we are again. Just a week after Al Avila made it clear that he wasn’t actively shopping starting pitcher Matthew Boyd and intimated that the Tigers needed him to be good again, it’s rumor time once more.
This time, word of trade interest in Boyd comes courtesy of Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Morosi reports that sources have indicated that the Los Angeles Angels are interested in trading for the 28-year-old left-hander. Morosi does make clear that as yet there is no movement toward a deal.
The idea isn’t exactly a new one. With their failure to sign Gerrit Cole this offseason, and subsequent pivot to star third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Angels look like contenders on the offensive side, but that pitching staff still needs a ton of help just to be taken seriously. Boyd could certainly help them.
Of course, we’ve been talking about potential Matt Boyd trades since at least June, so you’re forgiven if feeling a bit jaded at this point. The Tigers couldn’t find a partner at the trade deadline, and by then his performance had already grown shaky after his red hot start to the season. Whether general manager Al Avila was asking far too much for him or not, selling low didn’t make sense with three and a half years of team control remaining, and so he stayed in Detroit.
The problem with the Angels rumor is that other than missing out on Cole, little has changed since July to make a deal more likely. The only other development since was Boyd coming unglued in the second half, casting more doubt on which version of Matt Boyd a trade partner would receive should they decide to take the chance and pay the Tigers’ price.
That’s the crux of the matter. Teams want Matt Boyd because they see the superb strikeout rate—10th best among all qualified starters in 2019—but they also want to pay at the level of an average, cost-controlled starting pitcher. Boyd’s FIP and ERA for the year graded out better than American League average, but not substantially so. Somewhere in the middle ground, the Angels are going to have to meet the Tigers price if they’re serious.
What kind of return do the Tigers need?
This is actually pretty simple and leaves little ambiguity for Eppler and Avila to work through. The Angels aren’t going to deal top prospect Jo Adell, and the Tigers aren’t looking for pitching prospects in return. The Angels aren’t exactly stocked with top 100 talent either. That leaves outfielder Brandon Marsh as the only logical centerpiece of a deal.
Marsh is a recently turned 22-year-old outfielder who draws a 50 future value grade from FanGraphs. He was drafted by the Angels with the 19th pick in the second round of the 2016 amateur draft. A back injury delayed his initiation to pro ball, but Marsh moved through two A-ball levels in 2018 and handled his 2019 jump to the Double-A level very well, showing off the plate discipline and contact ability the Angels are banking on.
Marsh is currently playing center field but projects more as a corner outfielder despite above average speed. The hit tool is still under construction, but FanGraphs projects the left-handed hitting Marsh to be an above average contact hitter at maturity while solid plate discipline to boot. While his swing and approach haven’t tapped into much home run power, he’s also regarded as having plus power potential if he can make the adjustments needed to start hitting the ball in the air and to the pull field more often.
Marsh is certainly a top 100 prospect but pretty far down the list. FanGraphs ranks him as the 74th best prospect in baseball, while MLB Pipeline also gives a 50 future value (FV) grade but has him just outside the top 100. By himself, Marsh isn’t quite enough to be worth Matt Boyd in my opinion, but the additional of a decent lower level prospect or two would make this a pretty square deal for both sides. Even straight up there isn’t much to really complain about.
The Tigers appeared to want more for Boyd back in July when names like the Phillies Alec Bohm were being tossed around, but Marsh has a lot of potential, and it wouldn’t take much to see his stock rise. He’s a very nice prospect with what appears to be a very strong floor as an average outfielder, but with more in the tank if he can learn to pull the ball in the air more often.
The fact is that even a strong start to the 2020 season from Matt Boyd isn’t necessarily going to loosen teams’ grip on blue chip prospects. Everyone knows he can pitch like a top starter at times. However the inconsistency makes it less likely that anyone pays a king’s ransom even if Boyd has a great first half and sustains it through July. Marsh represents a chance to get a very good young outfielder before his stock rises too much. With Mike Trout, Jo Adell, and Justin Upton forming the nucleus of the Angels outfield for a couple more years, Marsh is expendable and with the right secondary pieces would be a solid return for Boyd.
The pressure is on the Angels
Two popular options among Angels fans this offseason, Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber, are already off the table. The club also has a rough recent history with pitcher injuries. Dropping a major free agent contract on injury prone 32-year-old left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu seems like a dangerous, but probably necessary move should the Angels be unwilling to dangle Marsh in trade. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, consensus around the league suggests that Ryu will receive a deal in the neighborhood of $80 million.
That’s a big risk for club already committed to running a high payroll and in need of multiple pieces to legitimize themselves as contenders. Taking on most of a contract such as David Price’s deal with the Boston Red Sox is similarly risky. There are certainly other pitchers the Angels could try to trade for other than Matt Boyd. However, the combination of salary, team control, and potential for another developmental step make him one of the more attractive established starters available in trade.
Don’t expect a deal at this point, but if Eppler is willing to trade Brandon Marsh as the centerpiece of a prospect package, the two clubs should be able to work something out. Otherwise look for the Tigers to wait and see if Boyd can take another step next season and make these decisions easier on potential trade partners next July.