Arlington, Texas — Maybe if this was 2016, a young, left-handed, top of the rotation pitcher like Matthew Boyd, with three years of club control remaining, would have attracted a top, big league-ready prospect like Kyle Tucker, Jo Adell or Carter Kieboom, or an already established young player like Gleyber Torres.
But these days, the Major League Baseball trade market is a vastly different beast.
The days of a player like Adam Eaton fetching top prospects like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez at the trade deadline are over. Jose Quintana bringing a return of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease? Forget it.
Everything has changed since the White Sox scored those coups in 2016. Only a few teams had extensive analytics staffs then. The new collective bargaining agreement with its draconian luxury tax penalties was still a year away.
There were more owners willing to sell a part of their future for even a slight chance to sneak into the playoffs.
Every team collects the same data on players and prospects — though some have more sophisticated databases and are better at digesting and applying the numbers. Every team has its own actuarial tables on players, which has all but ended the ability for established players over 30 to land lucrative, multi-year contracts.
And the luxury tax penalties are harsh enough that even the big-market teams like the Yankees and Dodgers need to pay heed.
What you have now are a collection of owners who, with a couple of exceptions, think alike. And since they all have essentially the same analytical data, the all value players the same way.
There are very few gut or emotional decisions made any more. There are very few risks taken anymore. Thus, there are very few teams willing to mortgage any part of their future to chase a wild card spot.
There were 16 teams within three games of a playoff spot on Wednesday. So, the Tigers were among a smaller number of teams in full sell mode.
But, most of those teams had little chance of winning a division title. So instead of risking the future for what amounts to a coin-flip playoff chance, you play it safe. Make small moves if you can but do not go all in.
If commissioner Rob Manfred wants to re-stoke the trade deadline (and the free agent season), make the wild card round best of three and move the one trade deadline back to the middle of August.
But that’s not the landscape Tigers general manager Al Avila was confronted with in trying to find a trade partner for Boyd.
“All clubs have a model,” he said. “There are things they would do and things they won’t do. And for the most part, they are pretty stringent. They look at service time, past performance, present performance, team control is huge.
“All these things are put in play and it determines, ‘This is what we’d do.’ There’s a range there, a value attached to a player and they stick to that. They don’t bend. The market is more conservative these last few years.”
There were several contending teams, legitimate contenders, that badly needed starting pitching. And Boyd, having a career-year, was on teams’ lists. With having three years of control left, though, Avila could negotiate from a position of power.
He had what those teams needed. In 2016, that might’ve netted him a franchise-altering haul. But not this year. And Avila, to his credit, did not lower his asking price. He did not settle for a lesser package. Why should he?
Should he have accepted a lesser package because of the fear of injury? Or the fear that this season is a one-off for Boyd? They have analytics for that, too, you know.
His work ethic, his mechanics, his maniacal devotion to diet and nutrition — the guy has a health and performance coach — the fact that he’s improved steadily every season and he just now entering his prime years all point to his value appreciating, not depreciating.
The Astros added Zack Greinke, who has a Hall-of-Fame resume, and didn’t give up their top two prospect, including Tucker, the type of prospect Avila would be looking for. The Angels wouldn’t include Adell in any package for Boyd, either.
The Blue Jays return for Marcus Stroman, who had a full year of control left, was minimal.
Other starting pitchers on the market like Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner stayed put.
“In my gut and in my heart, I didn’t think there was a trade there (for Boyd),” Avila said.
And that may be the honest truth of it. It is also true that teams will ask about Boyd again this winter and again before the 2020 trade deadline. And, in the meantime, the Tigers can discuss the possibility of extending Boyd beyond 2022 and let him anchor and mentor the young guns that are coming up through the system — Casey Mize, Matt Manning, et al.
“This is something you take year to year,” Avila said. “We love Boyd. He’s one of those guys — smart, works hard, this is the best year he’s had and we fully expect him to move forward with great success. Signing him long-term, it’s not out of the question. It’s a good possibility, for sure.
“It you are looking for a guy to stick around for the long haul, he’s one of those guys.”
“With any player on your roster, you have to be careful,” Avila said. “You have to keep an open mind when you are rebuilding in the event sometime may come up where you can change your franchise. We are in the stage where we have to keep an open mind.”
Around the horn
As Avila intimated Wednesday, outfielder Travis Demeritte — acquired from the Braves along with left-handed pitcher Joey Wentz for Shane Greene — will join the Tigers in Texas Friday. He replaces Nick Castellanos on the roster and is expected to share right field with Victor Reyes, once Christin Stewart (concussion) returns.
… According to media reports out of Chicago, the Tigers paid the Cubs less than $500,000 of the remaining $3 million on Castellanos’ contract.
On deck: Tigers at Rangers
Series: Three-game series at Globe Life Park
First pitch: Friday-Saturday – 8:05 p.m; Sunday – 3:05 p.m.
TV/radio: Friday-Sunday, FSD, 97.1
Probables: Friday – LHP Tyler Alexander (0-1, 3.86) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (13-6, 3.83); Saturday – LHP Matthew Boyd (6-8, 3.94) vs. RHP Adrian Sampson (6-8, 5.32); Sunday – RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-8, 7.23) vs. RHP Pedro Payano (1-0, 3.18).
►Alexander, Tigers: His last start in Seattle got away from him. After allowing just one hit through three innings, he was tagged for four runs and seven hits over the next 1.1 innings. Still, he had nine strikeouts in those 4.1 innings.
►Lynn, Rangers: He’s put together a nice bounce-back season at age 32. He’s coming off a strong start at Oakland, holding the A’s to one earned run in six innings, with eight strikeouts. His best start came earlier in July, when he shutout Houston over seven innings, punching-out 11.