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Slow trade market has Tigers GM Al Avila in a tight spot with Matthew Boyd

The Tigers’ rebuild needs bats, but they can’t afford to miss with their biggest trade chip.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline is now less than 48 hours away, and the action has been a bit lacking so far. With the removal of the waiver period in August, one wondered if teams would have been a little more proactive in fortifying themselves for a two-month push to the postseason. So far, the moves have been subtle more than flashy. That doesn’t mean the trade market will stay that way, however. There are certainly many historical examples of teams waiting until the final days and hours before concluding a flurry of major deals.

Here in Detroit, Tigers general manager Al Avila faces several clear decisions, and one really difficult one. Players like Nicholas Castellanos and Shane Greene basically have to be moved. Greene should bring a nice return, while Detroit will probably have to take what they can get for Castellanos.

Lefthander Matthew Boyd does not have to be dealt, though. With three years of team control remaining after the 2019 season, and in the midst of a breakout season, he makes for one of the more interesting studies as the deadline countdown begins.

The problem is simple.

The Tigers’ farm system still lacks potential impact bats, particularly at key positions in the middle infield. Unless a couple of guys really emerge in the second half, the organization is going to head into the offseason still needing multiple impact prospects just to form the foundation of a future homegrown contender. They are on track to have the number one overall pick again, which can help, but that’s not nearly enough to get ahead.

Notes like this one, provided by Chris Brown of the excellent Tigers Minor League Report, make it clear that a half-decade of drafting without dealing prospects, along with numerous major trades, have yet to bear much fruit offensively within the farm system.

Certainly, there are a variety of hitting environments in the minor leagues. The Tigers’ farmhands don’t play in the launching pads of the Pacific Coast or California Leagues. But coming in last in these categories can’t be whitewashed by those arguments either. Young hitters without much power and lacking in plate discipline continue to fill the rosters of most of the Tigers’ minor league affiliates. Young hitters like Riley Greene, Isaac Paredes and Parker Meadows are a long way away from altering the situation.

Boyd can be the Tigers’ golden ticket, maybe the only major chip they hold in trade talks over the next few seasons. They can’t afford to waste him. There is at least some part of the fanbase that would prefer to spend on a bat and trade for another, and try to use Boyd as a building block as the farm system ripens. Since that doesn’t seem to be in the plans, the Tigers can’t miss when they eventually part with him, whether that’s this season or a year from now. They need a can’t miss bat, preferably at a key defensive position, and more.

Unfortunately, returns like that seem a little harder to come by these days.

Matthew Boyd is a unique asset on the market

Boyd started out this season red hot. He cooled as the homers started to pile up in June and early July, but has settled down in his last two starts to post a pair of gems. His 3.94 ERA aside, his true talent metrics — the things teams actually use to evaluate and project future performance these days — have remained consistent.

It’s important to remember that Boyd isn’t a rental. We have a tendency to think short-term, with the pennant chase to come in mind, but any team trading for Boyd is signing up for long-term success. Rather than a boost to the finish line, he’s a guy a young team should be looking to build around for several years to come.

As a fly ball pitcher who will probably have some home run issues as long as the league at large does, there is a limit on expectations. Unless he finds another pitch or radically changes for the better yet again, he’s likely to be a guy with well above-average peripherals whose performance from start to start depends as much on whether runners are on base when the home runs come as anything else.

In short, he’s quite good now, but not great. There are no 200 inning seasons or memorable postseason performances in his history. He’s not a Cy Young contender at this point. But he is inexpensive with a track record of durability and is likely to give a team a strong number two or three starter through the 2022 season. When you examine the way his pitches and approach have improved over the last year, there’s nothing flukey about his success, and there may still be more improvement to come.

Because Boyd’s track record isn’t so long, rival GMs may be looking at him as a potential steal. From the Tigers’ perspective, Boyd is an emerging top-of-the-rotation stalwart — not an ace, but a good starting pitcher with pristine strikeout-to-walk numbers who is just now coming into his own. He has to be traded on those terms.

Certainly, there is a risk in being patient here. People like to point to the Tigers’ reluctance to deal Michael Fulmer at the 2017 deadline and his subsequent injury issues as justification for taking whatever is offered for Boyd. But Boyd is not Fulmer, and the real risk for any GM with a rebuilding club is squandering the few precious trade chips they have available. The Tigers’ front office cannot get carried away and potentially make a deal just to do it. If a team is willing to pay a serious price, we have probably seen the last of Boyd in a Tigers’ uniform. If not? I won’t be upset to see him stay in Detroit a while longer.