Tom Koehler was trying his hardest to make his return to The Show. It had been over two years since he last played in a Major League Baseball (MLB) game as he remained sidelined with a series of shoulder issues, rehabbing with the Pittsburgh Pirates on a minor league contract in 2019 and earning a non-roster invite to 2020 Spring Training.
On Monday, March 2, Koehler abruptly announced his retirement on social media at the age of 33, posting a picture of him hanging up his cleats on Instagram. “Looking forward to starting my next chapter in the game,” Koehler said in its caption.
Just less than two weeks ago, the Stony Brook alumnus appeared determined to make the Pirates’ Opening Day roster. “The only way I won’t be able to do it is if I just physically can’t, and there’s no way of knowing that until we keep going,” he said in an interview with MLB reporter Adam Berry on Feb. 20.
However, Koehler’s limits were finally reached. His first two bullpens of 2020 promised a return to form. Suddenly, his first live bullpen went awry, convincing him to step away from the game rather than go through the rehabilitation again for yet another injury. “It’s tough to be a pitcher when you can’t throw the ball,” Koehler said to MLB reporter Jake Crouse. “So that’s unfortunately where I’m at.”
Koehler played four seasons at Stony Brook from 2005 to 2008 out of New Rochelle High School in Westchester County. The righty’s 297 collegiate strikeouts rank second in the Seawolves’ Division I history, while his 294 innings pitched and 17 wins land at fourth and seventh, respectively.
He became the last Stony Brook player to wear the hallowed No. 22, which was retired for Joe Nathan in 2006. Koehler would follow in Nathan’s footsteps when he was selected in the 18th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the then-Florida Marlins, making his big league debut on Sept. 5, 2012 — the second-ever to do so for the Seawolves.
By 2013, Koehler became a consistent member of the Miami Marlins’ rotation. His best season came the next year, when he set career highs in ERA (3.81), innings pitched (191.1) and strikeouts (153). As of now, he remains the last Marlins pitcher to start at least 30 games in three consecutive seasons, doing so from 2014 to 2016.
A 2017 post-deadline trade to the Toronto Blue Jays ended his career in Miami. Koehler was moved to the bullpen and shone in a relief role, putting up a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings. He became a free agent shortly after and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who he never played a major league game for.
Koehler was shut down during Spring Training with a shoulder injury, which was reaggravated further during rehab and required season-ending surgery.
The Dodgers released Koehler in November 2018 and he landed with the Pirates on a minor league deal three months later. He was shut down for the 2019 season in August after another setback on his surgically-repaired shoulder.
Koehler ranks in the top 10 of several Marlins franchise pitching statistics, including strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and innings pitched. His 132 games started for Miami is tied for fifth all-time with Aníbal Sánchez, and his 19 home wins at Marlins Park is second behind the deceased José Fernández.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Tom Koehler in baseball, personally,” Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton said.
Koehler has opened up the possibility of becoming a manager one day in the future as he continues to study the sabermetrics of the sport. However, for now, his biggest priority is his family — specifically his 5-year-old daughter Riley, whose softball team he hopes to help coach.