Will Parker be able to make a comeback after three elbow surgeries?
Oakland Athletics’ starter Jarrod Parker had not pitched since he started Game 3 of the 2013 American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers. The 27-year-old hasn’t played in a big league game in over two years. Yet the A’s agreed to a one-year deal worth $850,000 with $425,000 of that money being guaranteed, leaving some people wondering, “why?”
You see, Parker was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament for the second time in his professional career just prior to the 2014 season, meaning he would be undergoing the second Tommy John surgery of his career. At the same time fellow A’s starter A.J. Griffin, 27, underwent the first Tommy John surgery of his career.
In 2015 it appeared both players were coming along fine in their recoveries but both had setbacks. Parker’s setback was one of the worst kinds. He was making his final rehab start with the A’s Triple-A affiliate Nashville Sounds.
Parker was on his 87th pitch of the night, just one or two away pitches away from being back in the big leagues, when he threw a wild pitch and went tumbling off of the mound crumpling into a ball on the ground. He’d suffered a fracture of the medial epichondyle bone. The broken bone was right near where his Tommy John surgeries had been performed. Parker was forced to have a third surgery to repair the bone. It was not a Tommy John procedure however it was his third surgery on the same elbow.
For most teams three surgeries would be quite a deterrent to wanting to keep the pitcher on their roster. The A’s released Griffin on November 25 of this year but they decided to tender Parker a contract in hopes he will be able to return to the team. This week they settled on a one-year deal with Parker avoiding arbitration.
It seems strange that after three surgeries that the A’s would have enough faith in Parker not to give up on him. However, the A’s training staff and front office executives have been encouraged enough by his progress that they opted to keep him on the 40-man roster and pay him a guaranteed $4.25 million or $8.5 million if he does end up playing.
Still, there are factors fighting against him. In general second Tommy John surgeries don’t work out nearly as well as the first one and Parker has now had three major surgeries on the same elbow. However, many pitchers have come back from a second procedure. A recent example is reliever Joakim Soria who just signed with the Kansas City Royals. He missed the 2012 season after having his second surgery and has returned to post a 2.99 ERA over 135.2 innings. Yet, Soria has always been a reliever and Parker is a starter. It’s impossible to tell if he will be able to come back to being a starter.
After being traded to the Athletics from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, Parker was a star for the Athletics. In 2012 and 2013 he went 25-16 while posting a 3.68 ERA over 135.0 innings for the A’s. The team could benefit very much if Parker returns healthy.
Apparently, though, the worst part of a second Tommy John surgery is the mental toll it takes on the player. Even after three surgeries Parker has kept up his good attitude towards his recovery and that attitude may be part of what has convinced the A’s to keep him and give him another chance to play in the Majors. Parker has even helped others deal with the stresses of recovery.
It’s a risk for the A’s and for Parker but it one they seem willing to take. Only one pitcher in MLB history has come back from a third Tommy John surgery. Former A’s closer Jason Isringhausen is the only pitcher to have that distinction.
Although, Parker’s third surgery was not of the Tommy John variety, it is still just another strain on his elbow. However, the A’s truly believe in Parker and Parker believes in his ability to pitch again and for now, that seems to be enough to give him a chance.