Major League Baseball’s 2019 trade deadline passed on Wednesday, and with it so did the chances of the Detroit Tigers trading left-handed starter Matthew Boyd before the winter. Boyd, 28, had been one of the top starters rumored to be available. Yet Detroit general manager Al Avila either didn’t find an offer to his liking, or decided he’d rather just keep Boyd.
The latter scenario seems reasonable enough when you consider how Boyd has three seasons of team control remaining, and that the Tigers are already about as bad as a team can be — they entered Sunday on pace for 48 wins. But there is a risk factor that should not go overlooked. After all, the Tigers have been in a similar situation before, and are living through the downside.
As Anthony Fenech reported in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, the Tigers failed to capitalize on right-hander Michael Fulmer’s trade value a few years back. Fulmer, the 2016 Rookie of the Year, has since seen his stock crater due to performance and injury (he’s out for the year due to Tommy John surgery.) There was a time, however, when Fulmer had enough value to bring back in a trade Javier Baez or Alex Bregman, two of the best players in baseball these days:
Two seasons ago, they were aggressively approached about right-hander Michael Fulmer, who was coming off an AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 and was the Tigers’ All-Star representative in 2017. In what looms as the biggest mistake of their rebuilding process, the team rebuffed an offer for Fulmer involving two young players who are now among the best in baseball: According to multiple persons with knowledge of the talks, the Cubs offered shortstop Javier Baez as part of a three-player package and the Astros offered third baseman Alex Bregman for Fulmer and lefty reliever Justin Wilson.
Obviously some of this is hindsight — it’s not like anyone expected Fulmer’s career to go off the rails the way it did — but some of it is applicable to just about any pitcher. Injuries happen, and sometimes the pitcher in question can never regain their former stuff or their former consistency. Pitching is, and has always been, a volatile quantity. Even the good ones can go south quickly. It’s a testament to Boyd’s hard work that he’s even in this discussion — he entered the season with a career 86 ERA+ — but there’s no guarantee his stock will ever be this high again.
Heck, think about it this way: in Boyd’s last 11 starts, dating back to June 1, he has a 5.10 ERA and has allowed more than two home runs per nine innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.60) has remained strong, providing hope that better days are to come. Yet there’s a non-zero chance those 12 starts to begin this season will come to represent his absolute peak.
If that proves to be the case, then the Tigers will have likely missed the boat on cashing in one of their best chips for the second time during Avila’s tenure. Call it bad luck, but at some point it becomes a pattern of bad planning.