Tigers non-tender left-hander Boyd
DETROIT -- While teams build excitement bulking up their rosters with free agents and veterans in chase of a playoff race, the flip side is saying goodbye to familiar players who were part of the rebuild and saw the team through tough times. As the Tigers heat up the Hot Stove market, they had some tough choices to make ahead of Tuesday’s non-tender deadline for arbitration-eligible players, starting with one of their longest-tenured players.
Though Matthew Boyd had been a Tiger longer than any teammate other than Miguel Cabrera, he finds himself at the intersection of injury rehab, a looming arbitration case in his final offseason before free agency and the Tigers’ search for a second free-agent starting pitcher to complement the young core of their rotation. As a result, Boyd is now a former Tiger.
“It's tough,” said Boyd, who was non-tendered Tuesday evening. “My family and I call Detroit home and we love Detroit and we love Michigan. We've spent more time in Michigan than we've spent in Seattle, where we call home. Our daughter was born in Michigan. We were Michiganians of the Year. We're so thankful to Michigan and Tigers fans who showed me love and support throughout my career. Michigan will always be home.”
The Tigers had until Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET to tender a contract to their nine remaining arbitration-eligible players or allow them to become free agents. The club did not offer Boyd a contract, ending his seven-year Tigers tenure.
The Tigers also outrighted catcher Grayson Greiner, who was eligible for arbitration. He cleared waivers on Monday, the team announced, and became a free agent.
Boyd is one of the last Tigers acquisitions of the Dave Dombrowski era, having joined the organization from Toronto as part of the return package for David Price at the 2015 Trade Deadline. He joined the Tigers rotation down the stretch that year, and eventually settled into a rotation spot for good in the summer of 2017.
Boyd was an All-Star candidate in 2019, striking out 142 batters over 107 innings before the break while growing into a role as the face of the Tigers rotation. He struggled down the stretch that year and into the next, and ended up leading American League pitchers in home runs allowed in both 2019 and the abbreviated 2020 campaign.
While Boyd learned and grew as a pitcher, he also developed a presence in the clubhouse and off the field. He has served for the last few years as the team’s representative for the MLB Players Association, and welcomed teammates at his home in Seattle while they visited Driveline last offseason. He and his wife Ashley started a foundation called Kingdom Home to help rescue children in Uganda from human trafficking. Kingdom Home currently takes care of 156 kids on 12 acres that include housing, a well for water and land for farming.
The biggest factor in the parting of ways was a 2021 season that began with promise and ended with surgery. Boyd refined his changeup to complement his fastball-slider mix, allowed one home run over six April starts and entered mid-June with a 3.44 ERA and 3.75 FIP in 13 starts before he went on the injured list with left arm discomfort.
Boyd returned at the end of August for two starts, then went back on the IL with a left elbow strain. He ended up undergoing surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his left forearm, ending his season with a 3-8 record, 3.89 ERA and 4.10 FIP.
News of the surgery was actually a relief compared to the fear of a more severe ligament injury. But while flexor tendon surgery generally has a quicker timetable for return than Tommy John surgery, it can vary from one case to another.
The Tigers never announced a timetable for Boyd’s recovery. The timetable he received from Dr. Keith Meister, who performed the surgery, pointed toward a June return. But his injury, combined with Tommy John surgery that will keep Spencer Turnbull out for most or all of 2022, left Detroit with limited healthy starters at season’s end. Three of them -- Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning -- just finished their rookie seasons.
General manager Al Avila left the door open for a potential return at season’s end, but acknowledged it might not be a simple decision.
“There is this decision to be made on our part, and eventually it’ll be a decision to be made on his part,” Avila said in October. “It’s going to be kind of a two-way thing here for us. If we do go forward in that sense, then he’s got to make a decision on whether it’s going to be good enough for him.”
Boyd said recently his arm feels good, and he expects to be throwing bullpen sessions sometime in Spring Training. If his arm strength continues to build, he should be a strong comeback candidate. He just won’t be one for the Tigers, whose immediate rotation needs created a difficult match.
“It's sad in the sense of a chapter closing,” Boyd said, “but it's really exciting for what's ahead. … I felt like I was throwing my best baseball last year, and now I'm tacking on a healthy arm.”
The Tigers signed former Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year, $77 million contract early this month, and have been aggressive on the market for other free-agent starters. They showed interest in former Blue Jays lefty Steven Matz before he agreed to a deal with the Cardinals last week. Connect the dots, and there wasn’t a logical fit for Boyd, who could’ve ended up a depth starter or a reliever in a contract year.
The Tigers had eight other arbitration-eligible players, all of whom were tendered contracts:
3B Jeimer Candelario: Candelario solidified his role in Detroit’s future by backing up his breakout 2020 season with a strong 2021, batting .271/.351/.795 with a 122 OPS+ and an MLB-high 42 doubles. The 28-year-old is two years away from free agency, and the Tigers have to decide whether to sign him to a long-term extension or continue through arbitration.
IF Harold Castro: Castro, who turns 28 on Tuesday, not only won an Opening Day roster spot, he won over manager A.J. Hinch with his ability to play respectable defense around the infield while providing a sneaky good left-handed bat. He’s expected to fill a utility role again in 2022, though he might have competition from Willi Castro.
RHP José Cisnero: The 32-year-old Cisnero was a valued, versatile reliever, often pitching setup relief but filling in briefly as a closer for four saves. Aside from inconsistent command down the stretch and an elbow laceration that ended his 2021 season in mid-September, he was among Detroit’s top options, allowing 51 hits over 61 2/3 innings with 31 walks and 62 strikeouts.
RHP Michael Fulmer: Fulmer is entering his contract year, but the former AL Rookie of the Year and All-Star thrived in a late-inning relief role in 2021. The Tigers and Fulmer both seem comfortable in the role, and his experience helps Detroit ease in a group of young relievers.
C Dustin Garneau: After bouncing around six organizations over the past four years, Garneau not only returns to Detroit, but does so on a Major League contract. The Tigers like Garneau and what he provided them down the stretch last season, or else they wouldn’t have kept him on the roster this long.
RHP Joe Jiménez: The former Tigers closer posted a 5.96 ERA, 5.22 FIP and 1.52 WHIP in 2021, but he also allowed just 34 hits over 45 1/3 innings with 35 walks, 57 strikeouts, eight hit batsmen and six wild pitches. The metrics strongly suggest he was better than his base stats; his .167 expected batting average according to Statcast ranked among the top one percent of MLB pitchers. He turns 27 in January. If he was on the market right now, he’d be a solid bounceback candidate.
RHP Spencer Turnbull: Turnbull is expected to miss most or all of next season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but his emergence as a frontline starter -- including a no-hitter before the injury -- makes the decision to tender a contract fairly simple.
OF Victor Reyes: The Tigers have a crowded outfield of young hitters, and another free-agent signing could further clutter it. But the 27-year-old Reyes has staked a role as a streaky switch-hitting fourth outfielder who can play all three spots while providing speed and occasional home-run power.