Next in the Trade Deadline Targets series, we focus our attention to the first non-relief pitcher in the form of Matthew Boyd.
So, why would the Dodgers — or any team — be interested in a pitcher who’s sporting a mediocre 4.13 ERA and a good-not-great 3.55 FIP? There are a number of reasons, but it breaks to down his improvement this season, team control remaining and future projection.
Boyd, 28, was acquired by the Tigers in the David Price deal four years ago. He is finally coming into his own. He’s enjoying the best season of his career to date. He has a 3.1 fWAR, a 32.2 K%, 4.8 BB% — all career-highs — and is one of the best at getting batters to chase his pitches (34.7 O-Swing%) and induce whiffs (13.3 SwStr%). He boasts near-elite-level spin on his fastball (2399 RPM) and slider (2366 RPM). His slider is his best pitch and the spin on it is 23rd-best among MLB starters, just behind some guy named Max Scherzer. His fastball is 19th. He also averages six innings per start — a rarity these days.
He has struggled of late, if you just look at ERA. If you look beyond, you’ll see he’s been a bit unlucky.
The BABIP gods are cruel, especially when he’s sporting an 8:1 K:BB ratio in that same time.
Beyond the improvement at age-28 and the potential of getting even better over the coming years, what else makes Boyd an enticing target? He’s not a free agent until after the 2022 season, meaning the acquiring team would have him for the next 3 1/2 seasons. The Dodgers have a lot of pitching depth at present, but Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill are free agents after the season, and it’s anyone’s guess how the rest of the rotation will shake out in 2020 and beyond after Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw (for two more years). Acquiring a guy like Boyd would be a play for the future — much like they did in 2015 when they landed Alex Wood from the Braves.
Not only that, but if the Dodgers acquired Boyd, they’d have an easier time sending someone like Kenta Maeda or Ross Stripling to the bullpen, thus strengthening the bullpen from within. It would also allow them to be more comfortable with Julio Urias pitching out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season and postseason — a role in which he has done well being removed from the starting rotation for innings-restriction reasons.
The Dodgers have been linked to Boyd already. It wasn’t the strongest of links, but it was a link nonetheless. And because of the things written above, Boyd’s acquisition cost could be cost-prohibitive for the Dodgers, which is why these packages might be lacking from a Tigers’ point of view. If the Tigers are seriously thinking about moving him, though, you better believe they’re going to get a really strong return (likely from another team). I don’t think the Dodgers make Gavin Lux, Dustin May or Will Smith available, but Keibert Ruiz has be in-play to get the Tigers to listen.
This is a ton to give up, but you have to figure a deal like this begins with Ruiz. He seems to be the more “expendable” (for lack of a better term) catcher between he and Smith. Estevez and Uceta are both in Double-A and performing well. They may not have the high ceilings of some other prospects, but their floors are pretty high.
Ruiz is still the big prize. White would give them a near-MLB ready pitcher who has shown flashes of No. 2 potential in his minor-league career. Beaty could join the Tigers right away — especially if they trade Nicholas Castellanos.
The Tigers might not even move Boyd. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they held onto him for the rest of the season because his value is likely to hold through the winter. That and the fact other teams (Astros, Braves, Yankees) have been linked to him makes his acquisition unlikely. But if the Dodgers like him enough and think he can be a future rotation fixture, they just might go out and get him.