Welcome back to the “way too early” trade candidates column for the Atlanta Braves.
The last time we examined a potential trade candidate, John Means promptly went out and threw a no-hitter right after the article about him was posted. Around the time of that piece, the Mike Soroka announcement regarding his impending surgery was not yet announced. If the Braves could have used a starter pre-surgery, they can certainly use one now. On top of that, Huascar Ynoa broke his hand following Sunday’s outing after he hit the dugout. He will be out at least a couple of month, and a rotation piece is now becoming more like an emergency than a luxury.
The bullpen has also been a mess. It is pretty obvious that, even with Chris Martin coming back and the addition of Shane Greene, the Braves relief core could still use quite a bit of help. So, where does that boost come from?
It would behoove Alex Anthopoulos and company to search for starters who can get past the 5th inning. If the bullpen is pitching four or more innings every game, they will wear out, and their numbers will look terrible.
Take A.J. Minter, for example. According to Baseball Savant, before his few outings versus the Blue Jays and Brewers, his expected ERA (xERA) was in the 90th percentile. Since then, he’s slipped to the 77th. Is it possible that guys like Minter are overused due to starters not getting consistent quality starts?
At the time of this writing, Minter has pitched in 50% of Atlanta’s games. That is on pace for 81 games. Relievers are not supposed to pitch anywhere near that many games, and Minter is not the only one being overused. The following pitchers are on pace for way too many appearances:
- A.J. Minter: on pace for 81 games
- Will Smith: on pace for 73 games
- Tyler Matzek: on pace for 73 games
- Luke Jackson: on pace for 69 games
- Josh Tomlin: on pace for 61 games
For reference, in 2019, only one Braves reliever had over 55 games pitched. Adding a solid rotation guy kills two birds with one stone — boosts the rotation and the bullpen.
Who should the Atlanta Braves Target?
Remember, we’re looking at realistic trades here, and we’re only considering players who could be traded for one of three reasons.
- Rebuilding: Teams that know they won’t compete may trade their desirable players for prospects to expedite the rebuild process. We’ll be looking for veteran players who can help the Braves win now from these teams.
- Contending: Teams that feel they will compete will trade their prospects for players to help the club now to a rebuilding team. The Braves fall into this category.
- Salary Dump: Baseball is a business, and a team in a tight spot financially may be willing to trade a contract they no longer want for financial flexibility. Depending on the scenario, a team could part with a prospect or Major League players for cash considerations.
Enter Matthew Boyd
If you look at Mathew Boyd’s career numbers, you may be thrown off a bit. Why would the Braves want a guy with a career 4.91 ERA? In a nutshell, that ERA is deceiving.
First, he is a workhorse, which is what the Braves desperately need. In all but one start this year, he has gone at least six innings, with four going seven innings or longer. He also barely gives up any hits, walks, or runs. In 47.2 innings, his walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP) is an excellent 0.965. For reference, the Braves best starter is Huascar Ynoa with a 1.052 WHIP, and the next best is Ian Anderson with a 1.222.
So far in 2021, Boyd has been excellent. His top-notch 1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is impressive, but his underlying metrics are as well. According to Baseball Savant, Boyd is excelling in the following categories:
- Top 70% in expected ERA (xERA)
- Top 83% in walk percentage (BB%)
- Top 92% in chase rate
- Top 63% in expected slugging percentage against (xSLG)
- Top 77% in barrel percentage
Another enticing thing is Boyd barely walks anyone. He has only ten walks in eight starts so far. Limiting walks alone would be a huge help to the Atlanta Braves.
2021 has been excellent for Boyd, but it is not his only good year
There is no denying that Boyd has had poor seasons. In 2020, his ERA was 6.71, but he was a bit unlucky per his xERA — 5.34. However, even though Boyd’s surface ERA looks bad for his career, since 2016, his xERA has been below 3.77 in four different years.
According to FanGraphs’ expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), he has been decent as well. Even with his bad 2020 and terrible 2016, Boyd’s xFIP is 4.62.
Why the Atlanta Braves and Detroit Tigers line up
The Detroit Tigers are not going to compete in the next few years. They are a prime candidate to rebuild. They still have a ton of money on the books in Miguel Cabrera’s albatross of a contract that will pay him $32 million in 2022 and 2023, so they will need to depend on cheap players. The next highest-paid guy on the team is Matthew Boyd at a cool $6.5 million, so other than Cabrera; their payroll is not terrible at an approximate $74 million.
The Tigers have the second-best farm system according to MLB.com’s 2021 farm rankings. This suggests that although they will not compete in the next year or two, they are coming close to ramping up their efforts to compete again. The Tigers can speed this process up by cashing in on guys who most likely won’t be on the team when they are in a competitive window.
Boyd is one of the rare guys that goes through arbitration four times. In 2022, he will be in the final year of his contract. This means that he is under team control for the rest of this season and all of 2022. If the Tigers do not extend him, he will not be part of the team when they are competiting. Boyd was already their hottest trade candidate a few years ago, and it fell through. Don’t expect them to make that mistake again.
On the other side of things, the Braves line up well because they are in a competitive window and could really bolster their shaky rotation situation. They also have decent trade pieces in their 15th ranked farm system that are near MLB ready and can help the Tigers compete when the time is right.
The Braves payroll is the second-highest it has ever been, and Liberty Media has all but yelled it from the mountain tops that they do not want to spend much more money. As mentioned earlier, Boyd does not cost a lot, relatively speaking. Of course, whatever his arbitration raise will be next year will be on the books in 2022, but it will not be anything extreme. The Braves will also need his services with both Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly coming off the books.
This trade just makes too much sense not to explore on both sides. The Tigers could help speed up a much-needed rebuild while cashing in on a player that won’t be on their team past 2022, and the Braves could add a reliable mid-rotation guy to their staff.
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