In the coming weeks, the Tigers will have to decide on a course of action regarding starter Matthew Boyd. That was the case last winter as well, but Boyd’s disastrous 2020 season puts the Detroit organization in a much less favorable position this time around.
Boyd was one of the most commonly-referenced trade candidates around the 2019 deadline and during the subsequent offseason. The rebuilding Tigers held firm on a lofty asking price for the controllable strikeout specialist and ultimately kept him in the fold. Unfortunately, Boyd struggled through an abysmal twelve starts in 2020, no doubt dealing a heavy blow to his trade value.
The southpaw pitched to a 6.71 ERA across 60.1 innings this past season. A fly-ball pitcher, Boyd has always been vulnerable to home runs, but the long balls spiked to an untenable level in 2020. Even more concerning, the swing-and-miss stuff that had made Boyd so appealing fell off substantially. His strikeout rate dropped from an elite level (30.2%) in 2019 to slightly below-average (22.1%) last year. Boyd still generated whiffs at a solid clip on a pitch-by-pitch basis, but his 238-strikeout 2019 season now looks more like an outlier than an indicator of an upward trend in performance.
With teams having to decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players by December 2, the Tigers have to determine if Boyd can get back on track. Arbitration salaries are tougher than ever to project this offseason, but MLBTR’s Matt Swartz pegs Boyd for something in the $5.5MM – $7.8MM range. That’d be great value for a high-strikeout, mid-rotation workhorse. But it’s not an insignificant amount of money for a player with a career 5.08 ERA/4.75 FIP. If Detroit feels Boyd’s 2019 season was something of an aberration, the organization could look to move on.
That could still take the form of a trade. Surely, the Tigers wouldn’t recoup anything close to what they would’ve received six months ago. It’s easy to envision other teams having interest in buying low, though. Boyd’s still only 29 years old (30 in February). He comes with another season of arbitration-eligibility beyond 2021, so there’s some long-term contractual upside if he figures things out. Notably, Boyd’s velocity and spin rates weren’t marginally different in 2020 than they were in 2019, so it’d be easy to hope for a rebound.
Robbie Ray, another high-strikeout southpaw who endured a similarly miserable 2020 season, could be an instructive case. Ray signed a one-year, $8MM deal with the Blue Jays shortly after entering free agency. Which one of Boyd or Ray one would rather have on their team is debatable, but that $8MM mark might be an approximate figure for Boyd’s current market value. That’s right around the high-end range of Boyd’s arbitration projection, making this an interesting dilemma for the Tigers.