Pittsburgh Pirates: Reassessing the Chris Archer trade

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 28: Chris Archer #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts on the mound during the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on July 28, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 28: Chris Archer #24 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts on the mound during the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on July 28, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

At the 2018 trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates took a gamble by acquiring Chris Archer. In 2020, let’s reassess the trade to see how it panned out.

In the middle of the 2018 offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded their top starter and former number one overall draft pick Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros. While Cole’s value was nowhere near what it is today (earning him a $324 million contract with the New York Yankees this offseason), the Pirates still failed to pick up high-end talent in the deal.

The deal was centered around young starter Joe Musgrove and third basemen Colin Moran, who were major-league ready talents who had proven potential with the Astros. However, they have turned into decent-at-best players for the Pirates, while Gerrit Cole developed into one of the best pitchers in the league.

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Ex-GM Neal Huntington made it clear he was not trying to acquire higher-end prospects that were further away in their development, as he had plans to compete in 2018.

Before the start of the season, they traded former MVP Andrew McCutchen in a deal that acquired Bryan Reynolds, which has actually turned out well for the Pirates.

By the July 31st trade deadline, the Pirates were 56-52 in third place in the NL Central, only 6 games out of first place. Instead of staying committed to the youth movement, Huntington decided to be aggressive and enter into the high-stakes Chris Archer sweepstakes.

The Dodgers, Yankees, and Padres were considered the front-runners to acquire Archer from the Rays, who had a very high asking price. However, the Pirates swooped in and made them a deal they couldn’t refuse.

At the time, Archer was a 28-year-old ace with tremendous strikeout ability. He was a two-time all-star that appeared to be heading into his prime. So, the Pirates took a chance, sending two of their top prospects, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows to Tampa Bay

Let’s fast forward to 2020, where it has become clear that this trade was an utter disaster for Pittsburgh. Archer was mediocre in his 10 starts with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018, posting a 4.30 ERA and 1.357 WHIP. However, he still struck out 60 batters in 52.1 innings, so there was no reason to believe Archer wasn’t going to bounce back.

However, in 2019, he fell off a cliff. In 23 starts, he was 3-9 with a lackluster 5.19 ERA, 82 ERA+, 5.00 FIP, and 1.412 WHIP, all of which were career worsts. He also allowed 1.9 HR/9, which was a career-worst by a large margin. Furthermore, his season was shut down in August due to right shoulder inflammation. Now 30 years old, Archer’s future is looking increasingly bleak, especially if he continues to deal with shoulder problems.

The Pirates have two more years of controllability for Archer to bounce back, but it is clear that the Rays won the trade right now and for the foreseeable future. Glasnow was once of the top pitching prospects in baseball but struggled in early in his big league career with the Pirates.

When he was traded to Tampa Bay in 2018, he showed his potential as a starter. However, in 2019, he finally lived up to his abilities. Although limited to 12 starts with a forearm injury, Glasnow posted a stellar 1.78 ERA, 2,26 FIP, and 0.89 WHIP. Still just 26 years old, Glasnow will lead the top of the Rays rotation with Blake Snell and Charlie Morton.

While Glasnow is the young, new face of the Rays pitching staff, Austin Meadows has become their young, new star in the outfield. After serving some time in the majors with both the Pirates and Rays, Meadows quickly established himself as an offensive force in 2019. He started the year on an absolute tear and earned an all-star game selection as a result. He finished with a .291/.364./.558 slash line, accompanied by 33 home runs, 89 RBIs, 142 WRC+ and a 4.0 WAR. Serving as the Rays’ leadoff man, Meadows will look to improve even more in 2020 and cement himself as one of the best young hitters in the league.

With the immediate success of the two main pieces in the Chris Archer trade, the deal starts to look like the most embarrassing blemish on Neal Huntington’s painful tenure as the Pittsburgh Pirates GM.

To add further insult to injury, the player-to-be-named later in the deal, Shane Baz, is on a crash-course for the major leagues. Only 20 years old, the right-hander already features a 100-MPH fastball and is performing well in the minors as a starter. He is currently the 5th ranked prospect in the Rays’ system and will continue to move up the ranks.

Unless Chris Archer magically returns to the level he was at in 2015 and wills the Pirates back to the playoffs, the 2018 trade will remain an utter failure for the Pirates organization. Newly-hired GM Ben Cherington will continue to clean up the mess Huntington left, which starts with refueling the farm system he depleted with boneheaded trades like this.

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At the end of 2018, this trade probably received a decent grade given Chris Archer’s flashes of his former self. But now that he has declined and Glasnow and Meadows have flourished, it receives a “D-” upon reassessment. The only thing preventing it from being an “F” is the off-chance that Archer bounces back to all-star form. For now, Pittsburgh Pirates fans can only hope to weather the storm while Cherington reconstructs their organization.