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Yankees potential trade partner: Detroit Tigers

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Motown’s in the middle of a rebuild and has a couple of intriguing trade pieces

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine the Yankees trading for any more bats. Notwithstanding any more injuries, the lineup is full of All Star-caliber hitters and is capable of outscoring anyone in baseball. Where the Yankees really need the help is on the pitching side - a high-level starter is probably the first priority, but don’t put it past Brian Cashman to target another reliever.

This makes the Detroit Tigers a very natural possible trade partner. The team is in the middle of a very ugly rebuild, but the two biggest trade chips they have are their best starter, Matthew Boyd, and former Yankee Shane Greene. Both players come with multiple years of control, which may make the asking price higher than the Yankees are willing to tolerate, but you know they’re doing their due diligence on both pitchers.

This has been Matthew Boyd’s breakout season. After being traded to Detroit from Toronto in the David Price deal, he floundered with ERAs and FIPs in the mid-4s and higher. In 2019, he’s put himself together with a 3.72 ERA and 3.56 FIP, while ranking in the top 20 in innings pitched and top five in K-BB%. You can quibble about whether Boyd is a true ace, but he’s had a great 2019.

The big change has been one that we see from a lot of pitchers - Boyd’s throwing his slider far more than ever before. It’s a good pitch too!

That’s elite level swing and miss stuff, and it makes all the sense in the world to throw the slider more. There’s still some development left to go - I personally wonder why Boyd isn’t throwing his changeup more - but it’s clear that Boyd made a very deliberate change in his approach. This kind of coachability is really encouraging to me, because we know the Yankees will be making suggestions and changes to optimize their players, and when players show that they can handle that, I see that as a plus in the ledger.

Now, there are warts with Boyd - his ERA spiked in June to a gnarly 5.20. Interestingly enough, his K-BB% actually improved in June, and what hurt him was a hard regression in home run rate. Home runs can be a pretty volatile metric, especially with the juiced ball 2.0, and moving from a division with a lot of pitchers’ parks to a lot of hitters’ parks.

Whether the Yankees think they can finish Boyd’s development may not matter though, as the Tigers have apparently opened negotiation by asking for Gleyber Torres in return, which is laughable.

This is from the very helpful baseballtradevalues.com, and while it’s only one valuation of players, Torres is just so, so much more valuable than Boyd. I can’t blame Detroit for asking for the moon, but if they’re not realistic about Boyd’s value, and aren’t under any pressure to trade him with three more years of control, the Yankees might just not even have the conversation. There’s no point buying a car from a person asking for double Blue Book value.

The other pitching piece that could interest the Yankees is reliever Shane Greene, the piece the Yankees gave up in a three-team deal for one Didi Gregorius, maybe you’ve heard of him. The Greene-for-Didi deal is one of the absolute best trades Brian Cashman’s ever made, but after a pretty volatile couple years in Motown, Greene is in the middle of something really special this year.

Greene sports the lowest ERA of any reliever in baseball with a minimum of 25 innings pitched, is walking fewer batters than ever in his career, and has spiked his groundball rate without a really great home run rate - which makes it hard to say there will be HR regression like Boyd.

Greene’s very much in the Zack Britton mold - he doesn’t strike out many batters by modern reliever standards, but relies on a heavy sinker-cutter combination to induce weak contact on the ground. The Yankees have had some success with this model of pitching, and with guys like Didi Gregorius and DJ LeMahieu in the infield, their defense is at least on paper better than it has been the last couple of years.

The drawback to Greene is that he’s not a free agent until 2021, so he’ll cost more than other relievers that are just rentals. This brings up an opportunity cost problem - if the Yankees really want to target a starter, especially one with multiple seasons of control, they probably can’t afford both that starter and Greene without dealing from the MLB roster.

They could always trade Torres though.

The problem with trading with the Tigers is eventually going to be cost. Detroit’s valuing their assets highly, and they should, but may be overestimating the market a little. They’re not under any pressure to trade either player - if they hold on to Boyd and Greene, they can do this again next year. I’d expect the Yankees to focus more on the rental market, so the timing just doesn’t work with the Tigers.