Pittsburgh Pirates: Chris Archer deal bad and getting worse

RHP Chris Archer may have thrown his final pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays at the 2018 trade deadline, though the cost seemed rather steep at the time (and even more now). Former first-round pick Shane Baz, plus two up-and-coming prospects — Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow — were included in the deal from Pittsburgh’s side, making it difficult, even then, to see the attraction for the Pirates.

In July of 2018 — at the time of the deal — Archer was 29-years-old and coming off a 4.5-WAR season the year prior, but his first-half of 2018 with the Rays featured just a 4.31 ERA; that after seeing his run-prevention suffer in each of the last two seasons (2017: 4.07 ERA, 2016: 4.02 ERA).

Archer was certainly still a capable All-Star pitcher, however, it seemed doubtful that Pittsburgh was gaining enough short-term value in the deal, especially given Glasnow was already contributing as a big-league reliever with 11.6 strikeouts per nine (4.34 ERA) and Meadows had just compiled a .292 AVG in his first 49 games with the Pirates (at the time Baz was only 19-years-old, playing rookie-ball).

Even two years ago… the Archer trade just didn’t seem like a very favorable deal for Pittsburgh. Although, after the news this week, the trade can now be labeled as disastrous.

On Wednesday, the Pirates announced that Archer underwent surgery on Tuesday to correct for thoracic outlet syndrome. Given the long and oftentimes unsuccessful rehab from the operation, plus his current contract situation — he has an $11 million option for the 2021 season, featuring just a $250,000 buyout — it’s likely Archer’s stint in Pittsburgh has come to a crashing end.

In two seasons with the Pirates, the former fifth-round pick (2005) has managed a 6-12 record overall, featuring a 4.92 ERA in 172 innings; that compared to his seven seasons with the Rays, where he compiled a 54-68 record and a 3.69 ERA in 1,063 innings (plus two All-Star appearances).

If you can recall, Matt Harvey is perhaps the most notable recent star pitcher to go under the knife to fix thoracic outlet syndrome… and his experience following the operation doesn’t leave much optimism for Chris Archer.

Harvey, at 27-years-old, had the same operation done in July of 2016 after logging over 500 innings in the majors. In Harvey’s first five seasons (2012-16), the hard-throwing righty posted a 2.94 ERA, including strong K/BB rates of 9.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.

In the three seasons after his operation (2017-19), Harvey’s performance has essentially fallen completely off, as he has pitched for three different teams and managed a 15-21 record, a 5.89 ERA, and a substantially lower K rate (6.9 K/9) during that stretch.

Also, while pitching for the Los Angeles Angels in 2019, Harvey’s average fastball velocity — according to FanGraphs — was a full three miles-per-hour lower than his average velocity during his full 2015 campaign (93.6 compared to 96.6).

In other words, it’s fair to say it will be a tough road for Archer. However, the conclusion of his stint in Pittsburgh may hurt more for the Pirates.

Since that 2018 trade, Glasnow has worked his way to becoming the Rays’ next ace starter behind Blake Snell. In 23 games thus far since being moved to the Rays — all starts — Glasnow has turned in a stingy 2.93 ERA, while also featuring an impressive 10.8 K/9.

Meadows, now 25-years-old, ripped off a 4-WAR season himself in 2019, playing in 138 games and slugging 33 home runs to go along with a 144 wRC+. Going forward, both players are key contributors on Tampa Bay’s roster, not to mention Baz who last season logged 81 innings (17 starts) in Single-A, finishing the year with a 2.99 ERA and remarkable home run rate of 0.55 HR/9.

Meanwhile, the Pirates enter the 2020 season (or whichever season is finally played), with the majors’ third-lowest payroll at just $58.279 million, currently in the deep depths of what looks to be a rather lengthy rebuild.

Before the sport was shut down back in March, FanGraphs had Pittsburgh projected to win just 68 games, easily last place in the National League Central. And with the Cincinnati Reds’ recent motivation to contend, coupled with the recent consistency of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, and Milwaukee Brewers… it may be several years before the Pirates find themselves even in a potential Wild Card situation.

The fact of the matter is, this is a very bad major league baseball team, made much worse because of a terrible trade. Regardless of what happens this season, It may be time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to simply cut their losses and buy out Chris Archer’s final option for 2021.