Matthew Boyd on return to Detroit Tigers: ‘I don’t think that door has closed’

Detroit Free Press

Matthew Boyd doesn’t want his time with the Detroit Tigers to end.

But he understands baseball is a business. The Tigers non-tendered him at the Nov. 30 deadline, meaning the 30-year-old did not receive a contract for the upcoming season and became a free agent for the first time in his career.

“It hurt, just being completely honest,” Boyd said Monday. “It’s tough. It’s tough because you give everything for the organization. You know that it’s not an end, but you understand the business side, and you can’t fault them for it.”

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Boyd posted a 3.89 ERA in his injury-plagued 2021 campaign, registering 23 walks and 67 strikeouts in 78⅔ innings over 15 starts.

One week before the tender deadline, the Tigers contacted Boyd’s agent — Scott Boras, one of the most influential and powerful agents in baseball — to inform him the organization wasn’t going to tender Boyd a contract for the 2022 season.

Boyd was projected to earn $7.3 million in 2022, according to MLB Trade Rumors, through the salary arbitration process. He becomes a free agent in winter 2022, so this season marked his final year of arbitration eligibility.

“I’m not going to get into it at this point, because there is a decision to be made on our part,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said Oct. 5. “Eventually, there’ll be a decision to be made on his part, if that gets to that point. It’s going to be a two-way thing here for us.”

After informing Boras of Boyd’s non-tender status, the Tigers offered to sign the veteran left-hander at a cheaper rate. The Tigers didn’t want to pay Boyd his projected $7 million because they’re worried about the health of his left arm. He underwent flexor tendon surgery, performed by Dr. Keith Meister, in late September.

The Tigers continued their negotiations with Boyd’s camp, even just before the deadline.

“I don’t think that door has closed,” Boyd said. “If it doesn’t work out this year, I don’t think it’s closed in the future. I love the organization. Detroit is a second home. It’s the birthplace of our daughter. It’s where our family grew from two to six. I don’t think that door has closed. It’s not closed on my end. I would always be open to coming back. Who knows what the future holds, but I wouldn’t be against it.”

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When the Tigers non-tendered Boyd, several teams — some from the West Coast, some from the East Coast and an American League Central rival — reached out to Boras to express interest in his client. Those conversations reached a standstill when MLB owners locked out the players after the Dec. 1 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

Player activity is frozen until MLB and the MLB Players Association agree to a new labor deal, which might not happen until February.

“When it comes to free agency, it’s exciting,” Boyd said. “The first thought is, ‘OK, that’s tough,’ but what I know is that I got a fixed elbow. I feel better than ever right now. I was throwing the best baseball that I ever have in my life when I was healthy. That was really, really exciting. Seeing the sky was the limit, the best is yet to come.

“It’s kind of that mixed emotion. You go through that emotional down, like, ‘OK, this could be the door closing on what was an amazing seven years of not only my life and career but my family’s life.’ And then you go, ‘Wow, I feel like we’re not to the peak of that mountain yet. We’re still climbing.’ There’s a lot of amazing things ahead of us, and that part is really exciting. Not knowing where that’s going to be is also kind of exciting.”

The left-hander exited his June 14 start with left arm discomfort and made two more appearances — Aug. 29 and Sept. 4 — the rest of the way.

As for Boyd’s pre-injury success, he credits pitching coach Chris Fetter.

“I just felt very free,” Boyd said. “There was the comfort of him speaking the same language. He said, ‘This is what you do great, and I want you to do more of what you do great. At the same time, these are things that you do great that you haven’t done a lot. I want you to do that, too.’ That was freeing. Just attacking guys with the sense of, I don’t care what the scouting report says, I know what I do. I know what my strengths are.”

Boyd finished last season third among Tigers pitchers with 1.4 fWAR in 78⅔ innings, behind reliever Michael Fulmer (1.6 fWAR in 69⅔ innings) and starter Spencer Turnbull (1.5 fWAR in 50 innings). Rookie starter Casey Mize was worth 1.3 fWAR in his 150⅓ innings.

For reference, newly acquired left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez — who the Tigers signed to a five-year, $77 million contract in November — logged 3.8 fWAR in 157⅔ innings for the Boston Red Sox in the 2021 season.

“I felt like we were just getting started,” Boyd said. “Looking forward, it’s really exciting to me. Right before I hurt myself and wasn’t feeling my best, I was actually throwing my slider better. I even punched out Nick (Castellanos) on a sider at the very end of the year. That was a good one. I can’t wait to see how that’s going to continue to improve.

“Using my off-speed more. Not being tied to the count. Just saying, ‘I’m going to throw my best pitch when I want to throw it.’ Letting the at-bat unfold in that sense was very, very liberating.”

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Boyd looks forward to making a full recovery from flexor tendon surgery. He is on track to begin his throwing program in early January and return to the big-league mound (barring no setbacks) in early June.

Boyd expects to start throwing bullpens midway through March, if not sooner.

“(Dr. Meister) said the surgery couldn’t have gone any better,” Boyd said. “Right after surgery, he told me the prognosis was going to be better than it was before surgery. I could return to play faster than he thought would be the standard for the surgery. Rehab is going great. It feels so good that I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I’ve had no issues with it.”

Both Meister and Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed medical examinations.

They informed Boyd the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow remains intact. Therefore, they do not think Boyd will need Tommy John surgery, a procedure with a much longer timeline for recovery.

“That wasn’t even on the table,” Boyd said. “They said it looks so good that it wasn’t even a thought.”

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Spanning seven years with the Tigers, Boyd had a 4.87 ERA in 777⅔ innings. He averaged 2.9 walks and 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings during his 147 games. The Tigers acquired him (and lefty Daniel Norris) from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for David Price at the 2015 trade deadline.

The Tigers had a .451 winning percentage — 435 wins, 529 losses — during Boyd’s tenure. Detroit hasn’t made the postseason since 2014.

“I hope they know that I gave it my best every single time I picked up the baseball,” Boyd said. “They got all I had. The best is still ahead of me. We had some tough years. That was really, really tough. But we kept our eyes forward and still did our best to represent the Old English D well by giving all we had every single night. We did that collectively and personally. I don’t know if that was received that way, but that’s how I felt on the inside.”

If Boyd ends up returning to the Tigers, he will rejoin an organization boosted by $217 million spent in free agency: Rodriguez for $77 million over five years and shortstop Javier Baez for $140 million over six years. The Tigers also traded with the Cincinnati Reds to acquire catcher Tucker Barnhart, then exercised his $7.5 million option.

The Tigers believe they have enough talent to snap their playoff drought in 2022.

“The best is ahead for the Tigers, without a doubt,” Boyd said. “The offseason moves were really impressive. We had a really good team last year, and they’ve only added to that. They’re going to be a much better team next year.

“Winning a championship is what I’ve always wanted to do there. It drives you because you hear the fans. You hear how passionate people are about the Tigers. You hear about the love for the Tigers that people in Michigan and across the country have. It’s a generational team. Being a Tigers fan is almost passed down.

“That’s why you want to win. You want to win it for the city, for the state and for the franchise because of what it means to people, and because of the hours that you put in. Winning a championship would be special. Who knows if I’ll be awarded the opportunity to do it with the Tigers. I do believe I’m going to be awarded that opportunity as a player. I’m going to do everything I can to help my team — whatever team that is — win.

“But it would be special if it was in Detroit.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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