December 14: The Tigers have officially announced that they’ve signed Boyd to a one-year deal.
December 1: The Tigers and left-hander Matt Boyd are in agreement on a deal to bring him back to Detroit. Boyd will make a $10MM salary with $1MM in performance bonuses available to him. The deal is pending a physical.
Boyd, 32 in February, was drafted by the Blue Jays and made his MLB debut with them, but he went to the Tigers in the 2015 David Price trade and has spent the bulk of his career there. Boyd then established himself as a solid member of the rotation over the next four years, getting into 109 games over the 2016-2019 stretch. His 4.67 ERA wasn’t elite, but he limited walks to a 7.3% rate and struck out 23.4% of batters faced.
That latter number was boosted by a strong 30.2% strikeout rate in 2019, which was among the top 10 among qualified pitchers that year. With the Tigers enduring a miserable season, Boyd was frequently mentioned in trade rumors but the club never found an acceptable deal and held onto him. There was no real rush to secure a deal as they still had years of control over Boyd’s services. However, his performance nosedived in the shortened 2020 season, as the lefty posted a 6.71 ERA over 12 starts that year. He posted better results in 2021 but then dealt with arm injuries that eventually led to flexor tendon surgery in September.
The Tigers could have held onto Boyd for 2022 via arbitration but decided to non-tender him given that he was going to miss at least part of the season. He signed on with the Giants, who gave him a $5.2MM guarantee. As this year’s trade deadline rolled around, Boyd was still working his way back from that surgery and the Giants had slipped from contention. They flipped him to Seattle alongside catcher Curt Casali for a couple of prospects. Boyd ended up returning to a big league mound in September and pitched 13 1/3 innings for Seattle down the stretch. He posted a 1.35 ERA in that time with a 24.5% strikeout rate but a 15.1% walk rate in that small sample.
The Tigers clearly felt encouraged enough by Boyd’s return to take a flier on him. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press has reported that the club intends to use Boyd out of the rotation. Boyd averaged 92.6 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2022, which matches his career high. He was pitching in relief this year and hasn’t proven himself capable of maintaining that velocity as a starter, but it’s possible he can continue building strength as he gets further from the surgery. He also struggled with control in his time this year, but it’s often said that is the last thing to return to a pitcher after a lengthy absence.
There’s risk involved in this signing, but it’s a fairly logical risk for a team in Detroit’s position. They hoped to return to contention in 2022 but just about everything went wrong and they finished 66-96. One of the major factors in their disappointing season was a parade of pitching injuries that they will still be dealing with next year. Casey Mize required Tommy John surgery in June and will likely miss most of the upcoming campaign. Tarik Skubal underwent flexor tendon surgery in August and seems likely to miss time as well. Spencer Turnbull should be able to return after missing all of 2022 due to Tommy John, but he’s an unknown after an entire year off.
There are question marks all over the roster that will make it difficult for the Tigers to compete in 2023, but they will still need some arms to fill out the rotation. Boyd should slot next to Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Manning and Turnbull in four of the spots. The final position could go to internal options like Joey Wentz, Beau Brieske, Alex Faedo or others, though the club could also seek to find further additions. If Boyd returns to health and effectiveness, he can provide a stabilizing veteran presence for a group with a lot of uncertainty. If the Tigers are out of contention when the deadline rolls around again, Boyd and his one-year deal could perhaps finally net them the trade return they’ve failed to recoup in previous years, with Skubal or Mize perhaps ready to retake their positions by that time. Boyd’s salary brings the club’s commitments to $118MM, per Roster Resource. Last year’s Opening Day figure was $135MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported the two sides were in agreement. Jon Heyman of The New York Post first reported the $10MM ballpark figure. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press first laid out the $10MM salary with performance bonuses. Heyman added that the bonuses can be worth $1MM.