McCosky: Matthew Boyd, trade chip? Tigers ace should be foundation piece

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Walking out of the clubhouse Saturday night after another deflating Tigers loss, I held the door open for Matthew Boyd, who was a few strides behind me.

“For the record, I’m not rooting for you to be traded,” I told him.

Matthew Boyd

And truly, I am not. For a bunch of reasons, not just because he’s a good man and one of the go-to guys in the clubhouse for all the beat writers and TV/radio folks. It’s never about that. It’s about his value to this organization going forward.

Sooner than later, general manager Al Avila and his staff are going to have to commit to some foundation pieces here. This team for two seasons now has been held together by journeymen, minor-league free agents and other vagabonds and independent contractors here primarily to hold a place until a prospect is ready.

It's a minor miracle that manager Ron Gardenhire has been able to keep the clubhouse as harmonious as it's been. 

I don’t think the plan was ever to man every position with a top prospect in 2021. There needs to be some veteran leaders in place, guys who have slogged through the ugliness of these last few years, guys who have earned the right to see it through to where the club is competitive again. 

And it’s so easy to envision Boyd as the ideal leader of a pitching staff that in two years will likely be highlighted by Spencer Turnbull, Casey Mize, Matt Manning and either Tarik Skubal or Alex Faedo.

Already Boyd is the player rep on the team. And even though Jordan Zimmermann is the veteran, Boyd is the unquestioned ace of the staff. Nobody outworks him. His work ethic and his high baseball IQ have been a positive influence throughout the organization already. You couldn’t ask for anybody better mentor to lead a young staff.

Here’s something else, too. Boyd had immersed himself in all the data, all the analytics and, just as significant, all the new-age training methods and programs. He is a disciple of Kyle Boddy and Driveline Baseball. He was using Trackman and Rapsodo machines before the Tigers invested in them.

His knowledge of both game-planning and training is probably ahead of the curve within this organization. I watched him last week tutoring JaCoby Jones on reading the data and trying to anticipate an opponent’s tendencies in various counts and the pitch plan they’ve used against him.

All the pitchers coming up now are similarly plugged in to the data and training methods. He’s been speaking their language all along, so there won’t be any old-school, new-school conflict like there used to be 10 years or so ago when young pitchers broke in.

And did I mention he’s still under team control for three more years? They are going to have to pay him some money, yes. He’s making $2.6 million this year and they will at least have to double that for next year. Still a bargain.

Peak value? 

The argument for trading him now, of course, is Michael Fulmer. The Tigers had a chance to flip Fulmer for a package of prospects a couple of years ago. They wanted too much in return, according to the teams that backed off, and wound up getting nothing after Fulmer endured a couple of injury-plagued seasons – including missing this year after Tommy John surgery.

Boyd’s value may never be higher than it is now, so the argument goes. Who knows? But the Tigers are wise to keep the asking price exorbitantly high. They have been holding out for a big league-ready player and at least one other top prospect.

You can’t, if you’re the Tigers, take a lesser return because you fear he might get hurt. Injuries are unpredictable. But if you were to put Boyd and Fulmer through an actuarial study, Boyd’s longevity would come out years ahead.

Boyd is maniacal about training and nutrition. Not only does he train at Driveline and other places, but he has specialized (and expensive) workout equipment in his home. When he showed up at TigerFest last winter, I had to do a double-take. He’d completely transformed his body through a harsh, almost punishing diet. The result, though, as he’s proven, has been sustained energy and strength.

His pitching mechanics, too, are so much smoother than Fulmer’s. Fulmer is a power pitcher, max-effort on every throw. Boyd is all finesse and pin-point accuracy.

Any athlete can get hurt at any time. But Boyd, at age 28, seems like a good risk long-term.

Part of the solution

I go back to when the Tigers first acquired Boyd from Toronto in the David Price trade. He got hit around a lot early on, and there were howls from Tiger Nation that he was a bust. But, and you can go back on my Twitter timeline to confirm this, I defended him. There was something there. He had a big-league repertoire, an elite slider and all the intangibles.  

Matthew Boyd

He’s taken big steps each year, in the development of his pitches, his ability to command both sides of the plate and his understanding of how to read swings and set hitters up. And he’s unflappable, which portends well for when/if the Tigers get back to playing meaningful baseball games.

The comparison has been made before, but he’s in the mold of a Cole Hamels or Jon Lester. Just a fierce competitor who, though he may take some lumps from time to time, won’t ever be defeated easily.

And he's just now entering the prime years of his career.

This is a guy the Tigers should be thinking of as a foundation piece, not a trade chip.  

After I told him I wasn’t rooting for him to get traded, Boyd smiled and said, “I don’t think I am getting traded.”

I told him that I didn’t think so either.

“I think you might be part of the solution here going forward,” I said.

“I’m OK with that,” he said.

On deck: Phillies 

Series: Two-game series at Comerica Park

First pitch: Tuesday – 7:10 p.m.; Wednesday – 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Friday-Sunday – FSD/97.1 FM

Probables: Tuesday – RHP Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.77) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (6-8, 4.13); Wednesday – RHP Vince Velasquez (2-5, 4.87 vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-7, 7.51).

Nola, Phillies: He gave up three home runs to the Dodgers in his last start, but in the five before that, he was money, allowing three runs in 35.2 innings. Opponents hit just .151 off him in that stretch. He beat the Tigers back in May, allowing one run in 5.2 innings.

Boyd, Tigers: The Tigers are 1-7 in his last eight starts and his ERA is 6.08 in that stretch. The home run ball has been his downfall in most of those starts (14). But, he’s also posted 72 strikeouts in 47.1 innings.

Twitter @cmccosky