Free-agent lefty Matthew Boyd, who underwent flexor tendon surgery late last September, tells Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press that he’s progressing nicely through his rehab program and is aiming for an early June return to a big league mound. Boyd recently began throwing from 75 feet, and he expects to begin throwing full bullpen sessions in the final weeks of March.
The 2021 season was shaping up to be a strong one for the 31-year-old Boyd, who started 15 games for Detroit and worked to a 3.89 ERA through 78 2/3 innings. Boyd switched his pitch selection up slightly, leaning on his changeup at a career-high rate while dropping his fastball usage to its lowest levels since 2018. The results were generally favorable, even as his strikeout rate dipped to 19.9% — its lowest mark since 2017. Despite the limited number of innings thrown, Boyd’s 285 changeups last year were the second-most he’s ever thrown in a big league season; opponents struggle, hitting just .247/.275/.351 with one homer in 80 plate appearances that ended with a Boyd changeup.
Boyd has, at various points in his career, shown flashes of brilliance and looked to be on the cusp of a breakout. He carried a 3.44 ERA through 13 starts last year before exiting his June 14 start after 2 1/3 innings and heading to the injured list. He returned for a brief spell in late August/early September but lasted just eight innings combined between two starts, yielding seven runs in that time. He underwent surgery later that month, and the Tigers non-tendered him rather than him one final arbitration raise (which MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had pegged at $7.3MM).
In 2019, Boyd had a 3.08 ERA and 2.98 FIP with elite strikeout and walk rates through mid-June, prompting him to be regarded as one of the most sought-after trade candidates on the market that season. He was sitting on a 3.94 ERA, a 3.26 SIERA, a 32.5% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate by the time the trade deadline rolled around, but he ultimately remained in Detroit.
Throughout his career, Boyd has at times demonstrated tantalizing skills, but he’s never pieced them all together in the same season. He ranked ninth in the Majors in strikeout rate and eighth in K-BB% back in 2019, for instance, but also served up home runs at a rate of 1.89 per nine frames. This past season, he held the long ball in check (1.03 HR/9) with excellent command but saw his strikeout rate dip. Given Boyd’s 4.96 ERA in 784 1/3 innings, many are perplexed by the repeated level of intrigue surrounding the southpaw, but there’s a general belief that his raw abilities point to another gear he simply has not yet reached for a sustained period.
Boyd, like other Major League free agents, isn’t able to sign right now with the lockout ongoing. Whenever the transaction freeze lifts, however, he’ll represent an appealing gamble — likely on a short-term deal — for a team that’s OK with waiting until the summer to see how his rehab has panned out. Petzold writes that Boyd and agent Scott Boras received interest from teams on both coasts and, a bit more specifically, from one of of Boyd’s former AL Central rivals.
Speculatively speaking, the Twins have the most glaring need for pitching within the division, although the dire nature of that need is enough to wonder whether they’d allocate resources to a pitcher who, at best, could only help for two-thirds of the season. The Royals would seem another sensible fit from the AL Central; they have plenty of young, in-house options to help bridge the gap to Boyd’s return, and he could in turn allow the team to manage the workloads of those young arms once he’s healthy.
Wherever Boyd lands, he’ll be hoping that a change of scenery brings about a prolonged stretch of the sporadic excellence that has punctuated his inconsistent career. If he’s able to pitch well this summer on a one-year deal, he could re-enter the market next winter in a much better position as he heads into his age-32 season. Alternatively, if Boyd and Boras prefer a more risk-averse approach, it’s relatively common for teams to give rehabbing pitchers of this nature a somewhat backloaded two-year contract. That’d provide Boyd with more up-front earning power but could potentially cost him money if he comes out of the gate throwing well whenever he does return.