It feels early to be talking about MLB trade season.
But the landscape has changed with baseball’s new, single trade deadline on July 31st. There was talk that the lack of a waiver trade period would create a greater urgency for both buyers and sellers to be more expeditious in making their moves, and that appears to be playing out so far during the first summer under the altered rules. We have already seen the Mariners deal Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankees and Jay Bruce to the Phillies. Gossip from the national writers has begun connecting other top available players to potential destinations. MLB Trade Rumors has authored their annual ranking of the best trade candidates. So, I guess it’s time to start talking about the trade market.
The scuttlebutt around the Milwaukee Brewers is...well, the same as it has been for going on three years now. Starting pitching has been a perceived weakness since the team began competing back in 2017, and though the club’s motley collection of initial out-getters was able to outperform expectations the past two seasons, the group has actually been a major weakness in 2019. Milwaukee’s rotation ranks #12 in the NL with a 4.91 ERA and #11 with a 4.67 FIP. Only one team — the Pirates, at 368.0 — have received fewer innings from their starters than the 372.1 that those for the Brew Crew have logged, and Pittsburgh has played two fewer games.
There have been some rough patches for both, but Brandon Woodruff and Zach Davies seem to have emerged as dependable two presences among the starting five. Gio Gonzalez has looked awfully good when healthy, too, but he’s been out of action with a dead arm for a few weeks now and may or may not come back before the All-Star break. Chase Anderson has prevented runs at a decent rate but has had difficulty working deep into games, and all of Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes, Jhoulys Chacin, and Jimmy Nelson have produced very poor results as starters.
It is rather plain to see that the Cream City Nine would benefit from adding a good starting pitcher. And, according to a report from Robert Murray of The Athletic, GM and President of Baseball Operations David Stearns is working the phones trying to find one.
Stearns relayed this to the beat writer:
“There is probably a level of consistency that needs to grow within our run prevention as an entire unit. That often begins with the starting rotation...I think any team that is in a competitive window and in a competitive mode is open to adding a guy that can pitch at the top of the rotation. We certainly wouldn’t be any different there.”
Murray goes on to write that while he’s heard little in the way of substantive talk connecting the Brewers and trade candidates like Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, and Mike Minor, there is one hurler that they have been exploring a potential deal for — Matthew Boyd, burgeoning ace of the Detroit Tigers.
Murray suggests that Slingin’ Stearns and company would prefer to add a controllable player to the fold rather than pursue a rental option, and notes that beyond “untouchable” top prospect Keston Hiura, there are minor league players that other orgs value highly as potential difference-makers. Maurcio Dubon is someone that, within the article, Stearns specifically cites as a player who has gotten asked about a lot in previous trade conversations. Scouts that Murray spoke with say that Corey Ray is a player the industry is high on, despite a poor start as well as a finger injury during his first go-round in Triple-A. But coming up with an enticing package that doesn’t include Hiura might be a tall task for Milwaukee, as Jon Morosi has previously reported that an offering would need to be overwhelming in order to convince Detroit and GM Al Avila to part with Boyd.
Boyd, a 28 year old left-hander, debuted back in 2015 but had accrued only 2.136 years of service entering this season, meaning that he’ll be under team control for another three seasons after the conclusion of 2019. He’s earning $2.6 mil this season as a Super Two player. He produced only a 5.07 ERA in 460.0 innings from 2015-18, but has ascended to top-of-the-rotation status during a breakout year for the rebuilding Tigers. In 15 starts and 88.2 innings, Boyd has tallied a 3.35 ERA and racked up 112 strikeouts against a mere 17 free passes. FIP- (65) sees him as 35% more effective than the league-average pitcher, while DRA- (56) views his work as 44% better than average.
Boyd has benefited from whittling down his arsenal and focusing on his strengths, relying more heavily on his four-seam fastball and slider than he ever has before while throwing his each of his sinker, changeup, and curveball 5.4% of the time or less. The southpaw’s gaudy strikeout numbers are the result of a three point increase in his swinging-strike rate, up to 13.5%, and he ranks in the 75th percentile when it comes to limiting hard contact. Boyd’s 1.73 BB/9 rate is the fifth-lowest among qualified American League pitchers.
Will this finally be the summer that Stearns makes a trade for an “ace”? Is Matthew Boyd’s surge so far in the first half of 2019 enough to convince Milwaukee’s brain trust and other front office execs around the league that he is a legitimate front-line, controllable starter after a string of seasons of back-end production? The Tigers will surely be marketing him that way, and if the Brewers are really sold on Matthew Boyd as the high-impact hurler they appear to need, then they’ll have to pay through the nose to get him.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball Savant