The Pittsburgh Pirates signed a pitcher last offseason knowing he would miss all of 2019 due to surgery. He is back and apparently healthy for the 2020 season.
Over the last few years, it has become more and more common for teams to sign free-agent pitchers who are recovering from Tommy-John surgery. Pitchers like Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Edinson Volquez have all received two year contracts with clubs knowing they will miss the entirety of the first year of those contracts. In fact, some have wanted the Pittsburgh Pirates to even take a chance on a few of those names. Still, the teams who signed those notable pitchers hope that they will bounce back to form in year two of the contract and that the team will get really positive value from the somewhat risky signing.
The Pittsburgh Pirates did this last offseason with a starting pitcher named Tom Koehler. He got a one-year deal with a club-option for 2020, which the team picked up for a base salary of $1.25 million with a chance to earn another $1.25 million in incentives. At the time the Koehler signing went under the radar because of the exact reasons listed above. The Bucs and their fans knew he would miss all of 2019 and so there was really nothing to say about the move.
Koehler is back and healthy for spring training and has a shot to be a part of the big league rotation or bullpen as long as everything continues to progress well for him. Koehler has been a starter for most of his big league career, but he also has been used as a reliever. Coming from surgery one could see him use as the team’s fifth starter or as a long reliever.
Koehler last pitched in the majors during the 2017 season when he spent time with the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. During that season he started with the Marlins and started to really see a decline in his numbers. He made 12 starts and pitched to a 1-5 record with a 7.92 ERA. Then he was sent to Toronto and pitched in 17 innings owning a 2.65 ERA. He was with the Dodgers in 2018, but never actually pitched due to forearm tenderness which eventually led to his surgery.
Obviously, a big thing for the 33-year-old right-hander will be how well his elbow responds to pitching competitively on a consistent basis. If he is able to work his way through spring training, he should battle for a rotation spot. Even if he does not earn a rotation spot he has shown the ability to effectively pitch out of the bullpen as well. Tom Koehler is definitely a pitcher to watch this spring; hopefully he is healthy and can be a productive part of the Pittsburgh Pirates.