Detroit — Emotions were mixed, certainly. But true to the character he exhibited through seven seasons here, some of them excruciatingly challenging, Matthew Boyd was positive and upbeat Tuesday night after the Tigers officially announced they would not be tendering him a contract for 2022.
“I just wanted so badly to be on a championship team here,” he said in a telephone interview. “Being on those teams in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 — it was tough in so many ways but we tried to stay positive and look forward.
“It tough now to see things come to fruition and not be a part of it. But that’s OK. I know what’s ahead for me and I am so fired up about it.”
Boyd, now a free agent, has already had several teams reach out to him.
“I don’t know if the door (back to the Tigers) is completely closed yet,” he said. “Not until I sign with another team. It really just came down to, if they weren’t going to give me a contract, I wanted to see what was going to be available on the open market.”
The Tigers did tender contracts to the eight other arbitration-eligible players Tuesday night: Michael Fulmer, Joe Jimenez, Jose Cisnero and Spencer Turnbull, infielders Jeimer Candelario and Harold Castro, outfielder Victor Reyes and catcher Dustin Garneau.
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That means that Boyd, entering his age-31 season, is a free agent for the first time in his career.
“We’re just so thankful for the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and just all Tigers fans for supporting me in my career and showing the love everywhere. Also for support (his wife) Ashley and I in our other passion, our calling, Kingdom Home (the mission the Boyds started in Uganda to help end child sex slavery).
“We are eternally thankful for their love in that.”
Boyd, the Tigers’ Opening Day starter last year, made 145 starts over seven years and leaves with the second-best strikeouts-per nine innings rate (8.7) and fourth best strikeout-per-walk rate (3.045) in club history.
According to industry estimates (MLB Trade Rumors), he could’ve been awarded up to $7.3 million in his last year of arbitration. In a normal year, the Tigers wouldn’t have hesitated to tender him an offer.
But he’s coming off flexor tendon surgery and it is uncertain when he will be ready to pitch next season. He plans to begin his throwing program in January with a goal of returning to big-league action in June.
The Tigers, presumably, weren’t convinced he could be ready that quickly. Also, there is a worry that tendon surgery could be a harbinger of a more serious problem in the arm, namely the ligament in the elbow.
Before the surgery, Boyd sought the opinions of several specialists, including Dr. Keith Meister and Dr. Neal Elattrache and both determined that his ulnar collateral ligament was clean.
The Tigers, still leery, did make Boyd a contract offer for 2022, but it was significantly less than Boyd was ready to accept.
The Tigers moved on. They acquired another veteran left-handed starter to anchor their rotation — Eduardo Rodriguez, signed for five years and $77 million.
“It’s sad in the sense of a chapter closing,” Boyd said. “But in talking to Dr. Meister and the physical therapists I’m working with, I’m ahead of schedule. I couldn’t be in a better spot physically.
“I’m really excited to build off what I was doing last year. I felt like I was throwing my best baseball last year and now I’m going to have a healthy arm on top of that.”
Boyd, when he talked to reporters in September just before he had the surgery, called this injury an intermission before the second act of his career.
“When I pick up a baseball next year, they’re going to get the best version of Matthew Boyd, and that’s exciting,” he said.
Here are the salary projections on the eight players the Tigers’ tendered: Candelario ($5.9 million), Fulmer ($5.1 million), Jimenez ($1.8 million), Cisnero ($1.9 million), Turnbull ($1.8 million), Reyes ($1.3 million), Castro ($1.5 million), Garneau ($1.6 million).
The Tigers in recent years have worked out deals with players prior to arbitration. Fulmer, in 2018, is the only player who has taken the Tigers to arbitration in 20 years.