It wasn’t exactly the kind of long play people dream up when they hope a star player will re-sign with his old team after being traded away, but Chris Archer is back with the Rays. The 32-year-old righty hasn’t pitched since August 20, 2019 due to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and the Pirates opted to turn down his $11 million option for this season, making him a free agent.
The Rays reeled him back with a $6.5 million deal that is significantly higher than the $4 million projected earlier in the winter. Many believed the Cubs would try to bring their former prospect back into the fold, but that projection was enough of a stretch for them even before increasing it by the same amount they just signed Trevor Williams for.
Bouncing back from surgery alone would be enough to cause doubt, but Archer’s performance has declined somewhat steadily over the past five seasons. His ERA hasn’t been under 4.02 since 2015 and has risen each season, ending with a 5.19 in 2019. He’s allowing fewer grounders and more fly balls on harder contact, resulting in more homers and less room for error.
His velocity has remained in the mid-90’s, though other pitchers who’ve undergone TOS surgery aren’t known for recovering quickly or throwing as hard. That said, the general prognosis seems to be getting better. Merrill Kelly of the Diamondbacks had the procedure in September and was expected to resume throwing in November. Arizona felt good enough about his early progress to pick up his $4.25 million option for 2021, which seemed odd at the time but is much less so now in light of the robust pitching market we’ve seen thus far.
Tyson Ross is another notable TOS veteran, but his results have been very spotty following 2016 surgery. The Royals’ Kyle Zimmer looks like a success story after his excellent performance in 2020, but that came four years after his surgery and represents an incredible improvement over what had been some abysmal campaigns. Matt Harvey is another who went on to pitch following TOS surgery in 2016, but he’s never been the same since.
I wish Archer all the best, especially since he’s no longer in the Cubs’ division and will again be facing the Yankees regularly. Still, I’m pretty shocked he got that deal and I continue to be surprised by how so many high-risk pitchers continue to vastly outperform market expectations.