The Pirates announced Wednesday that pitcher Chris Archer would miss the 2020 season – if there is one – after undergoing surgery Tuesday to relieve symptoms of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome.
The club said the procedure was performed by Dr. Robert Thompson of Washington University in St. Louis.
Archer had the surgery after consulting with several leading vascular and orthopedic surgeons in recent weeks, the team said.
Archer is projected to return to full competition for the 2021 season, but whether that will be in Pittsburgh remains to be seen.
Archer is in the final year of his contract with the Pirates, who can retain his services for 2021 by picking up an $11 million option. They can also buy Archer out for $250,000.
Archer is the second Pirates pitcher to have surgery to relieve the same symptoms in less than a year. Last June, Nick Burdi underwent the same procedure, which also was done by Thompson, and appeared to be back in top form in spring training.
According to Mayo Clinic.com, thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that occur “when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed.” The result can be shoulder and neck pain as well as numbness in the fingers.
Burdi’s surgery came after he injured his arm in a game on April 22, 2019, against the Diamondbacks. Burdi crumpled to the ground after throwing a pitch to Jarrod Dyson and had to be helped off the mound.
Archer’s time with the Pirates has gone from bad to worse. The centerpiece in a 2018 trade deadline deal that saw the Bucs give up three highly regarded prospects in outfielder Austin Meadows, right-handed starter Tyler Glasnow and right-hander Shane Baz – like Meadows, a No. 1 draft choice – Archer has struggled since coming to Pittsburgh.
In 10 starts in 2018, Archer went 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA, yielding 53 hits in 52.1 innings while walking 18 and striking out 60. Last year, in his age 30 season, Archer made 23 starts and fared even worse, going 3-9 with a 5.19 ERA.
Meadows, meanwhile, went on to have an All-Star season in Tampa Bay and Glasnow appeared to figure things out before going down with forearm tightness. Baz went 3-2 with a 2.99 ERA in 17 starts for Tampa Bay’s Bowling Green team in the Class A Midwest League, striking out 87 batters in 81 1/3 innings and allowing just 63 hits.
Archer had his share of success before coming to the Pirates; in his first six seasons with Tampa Bay he struck out 1,044 batters in 967 innings and posted a FIP of 3.46 to go with a 1.21 WHIP. But he never got untracked after the 2018 trade, and he struggled for the first half of 2019 as well. However, he also put up an 11-game stretch from June 22 until his final start of the season on Aug. 20 in which he worked 55 innings and yielded 49 hits while striking out 74 to go with a 4.42 ERA.
Archer’s surgery leaves the Pirates’ already thin starting rotation even thinner, as the club was hoping he could bounce back and help stabilize a staff that already was missing Jameson Taillon, who is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.