Clubs' interest in Boyd remains unclear 

November 12th, 2019

DETROIT -- The message from three months ago, after the calendar turned to August and the Trade Deadline passed with him still wearing a Tigers uniform, was that of a pitcher who wants to see through the rebuild.

“This is where I want to be,” Boyd said in his first start after the Deadline. “I feel called to Detroit, the city, this team. Detroit truly is home, and I'm so grateful for that. It means everything to me when I put on that uniform every single day. Things are changing here for the better.”

As the offseason heats up, the trade rumors will soon be back anew. But while the Tigers will continue to listen to trade interest in Boyd, as MLB.com’s Jon Morosi noted, Detroit faces the same conundrum it faced when Boyd was on the trade market last summer: At what price will general manager Al Avila deal him?

Most likely, it won’t be at the price teams will be offering in a deep offseason pitching market.

Though the Tigers listened to interest on Boyd last summer, they never came close to a deal. At that point, the Tigers were looking for the type of return that could jump-start their rebuild, including multiple impact prospects. Detroit’s goal was to find a similar return to the package of prospects the White Sox received for in the summer of 2017. That deal brought and to the White Sox; Jimenez posted 31 home runs, 79 RBIs and an .828 OPS for the Sox this past season.

Quintana was traded with 3 1/2 seasons of team control before free agency, just where Boyd stood over the summer. But while Quintana had an All-Star selection, a 3.51 ERA, 3.53 FIP and four consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings at the time he was traded, Boyd didn’t have the same resume. Even in a thin trade market for starting pitching, teams balked at the asking price, including All-Star infielder from the Yankees.

The stretch run that followed reinforced the point. Though Boyd had peace of mind once the Trade Deadline passed, he did not have his best form. He posted a 3-4 record and 6.11 ERA in his final 10 starts after the Deadline, including 17 home runs over 53 innings. Add in his mid-summer stretch, and he posted a 5.81 ERA with an .859 OPS allowed from mid-June to season’s end.

Any chance of a Quintana-like package for Boyd vanished with that stretch. One National League evaluator who followed the Tigers last summer said a more realistic package would be one Major League-ready prospect and another lesser prospect. The Tigers will ask for an impact position player, either already in the Majors or close to it, according to Morosi.

There’s another train of thought that to trade Boyd now would be undervaluing him, given his offseason training regimen and track record of improving year upon year. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) has improved every year since he broke into the big leagues in 2015. His strikeout rate has jumped from 7.3 per nine innings in 2017 to 11.6 this past season; his strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved from 2.08 in 2017 to 3.12 in 2018, then 4.76 this past season. His Wins Above Replacement took a similar jump.

To have a similar jump in 2020 could require refinement in his secondary pitches besides the fastball-slider combination he used heavily for most of this past season. Boyd’s changeup was a primary pitch for him in his first couple of seasons in Detroit before his slider became a formidable pitch over the last few seasons. His changeup comprised just 6.1 percent of his pitches in 2019, the lowest of his career -- according to Statcast -- but it jumped to 10 percent in September.

Another improvement could increase his trade value and potential return. It could also increase his value as a veteran presence in a Tigers rotation that could see the first of Detroit’s top pitching prospects arrive by next September, plus the potential return of former All-Star from Tommy John surgery. On the other hand, rival evaluators aren’t sure the upside will allow the Tigers to reach the return package they’re seeking.

Though Boyd is eligible for arbitration for a second time this offseason, he isn’t scheduled to hit free agency until after the 2022 season.