May 19: The Marlins announced that Koehler’s optional assignment has been voided due to the fact that he has been diagnosed with bursitis in his right shoulder. Rather than being optioned to the minors, he’s instead been placed on the Major League 10-day disabled list (retroactive to May 17).
Teams aren’t allowed to option a player to the minor leagues when he is injured, and Miami assuredly would’ve faced a grievance had Koehler been placed on the minor league DL rather than the Major League DL. He’ll now continue to accrue service time as he works back from his shoulder troubles, though there’s yet to be any indication as to how long he might be on the shelf.
May 16: The Marlins announced following tonight’s game that right-hander Tom Koehler has been optioned to Triple-A New Orleans. That’s a fairly surprising development not because of Koehler’s performance but simply due to the fact that the 30-year-old has been a mainstay in the Miami rotation since 2013. In fact, Koehler hasn’t thrown a single pitch in the minors since that 2013 campaign.
Over the winter, Koehler and the Marlins avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal that guarantees the right-hander a $5.75MM salary. Between that salary and the fact that Koehler has more than four years of Major League service time, he’s hardly the type of player that is typically optioned to the minors.
Of course, one would be hard-pressed to argue that Koehler didn’t pitch his way off the 2017 staff. The righty was tagged for eight runs on seven hits and four walks through just three innings tonight, causing his already unsightly ERA to balloon from 5.60 to 7.04. Koehler has already surrendered 10 home runs this year in just 38 1/3 innings, which has been the primary reason for his painful numbers.
The downturn in production for Koehler was rapid; prior to this season, he’d been a durable, albeit somewhat unspectacular rotation cog for Miami on a yearly basis. From 2013-16, Koehler worked to a 4.14 ERA with 6.8 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9 and averaged 30 starts and 175 innings per year. While his velocity and his K/9, BB/9 and ground-ball rates in 2017 have all remained similar to their 2016 levels, though, Koehler’s homer-to-flyball ratio has soared from 12.1 percent to 21.7 percent. While there’s likely at least some randomness at play there, his efforts can’t be aided by the fact that he’s seen a dramatic decrease in his first-pitch strike rate and his opponents’ chase rate.
Koehler will join fellow Opening Day rotation-mate Adam Conley in New Orleans, leaving Miami with a starting corps that consists of Edinson Volquez, Dan Straily, Justin Nicolino and Jose Urena. Left-handers Wei-Yin Chen and Jeff Locke are currently on the disabled list — there’s no timetable for Chen’s return — and the team is thin on options to replace Koehler. Conley could conceivably be a candidate, but he was only just optioned himself and didn’t pitch well in his first outing with New Orleans. Veterans Vance Worley and Odrisamer Despaigne are both with the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate (Despaigne is on the 40-man roster; Worley is not) and could merit a look.
From a service time vantage point, the demotion could have serious implications for Koehler, who entered the year with four years, 16 days (4.016) days of Major League service time. He’d need to accrue a fairly substantial 156 days of MLB service in 2017 to reach five years of MLB service and position himself to be eligible for free agency following the 2018 campaign, so if Koehler spends even a month in the Majors it’d push his free agency back by a year. Then again, if he can’t right the ship, his production to date would likely result in a non-tender following the year anyhow.