With the Playoffs Out of Reach, Will the Pirates Regret the Chris Archer Deal?

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The Pittsburgh Pirates went all in on making the playoffs in 2018 when they decided to trade for Chris Archer at the trade deadline back in July. The Pirates gave up three of their top prospects to acquire Archer and Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers to bolster their bullpen.

In the trade, the Pirates traded away prospects Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz, who was drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round of the MLB Amateur Draft in 2017.

After a helter-skelter start to the season, the Pirates were given reason to be optimistic about their playoff chances when they went on a 17-9 run in the month of July. This prompted general manager Neal Huntington to make a bold move and show his fans that the team was committed to riding that wave of momentum towards a playoff berth.

Unfortunately, the trade for Archer did not provide the spark that Huntington and the Pirates brass were hoping for. The Pirates floundered in the following month of August, going 10-17 and virtually crushing their playoff chances. Archer himself has not been tearing it up the way the Pirates had hoped he would since arriving in the Steel City. Archer has gone 2-3 with a 4.86 ERA with Pittsburgh, giving him a total record of 5-8 on the season with a combined 4.49 ERA between his time with Tampa and Pittsburgh.

This raises the question: did the Pirates give up too much to acquire Archer at the deadline, especially since the team fell short of making the playoffs?

A lot of that, naturally, will depend on how Meadows, Glasnow, and Baz all pan out in Tampa Bay. Baz is still several years away from seeing big league action, but Meadows and Glasnow are both currently seeing playing time with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Meadows has only managed to get into five games thus far in Tampa. The Rays, until just a few days ago, were still in the hunt for the second wild card spot in the American League, thus causing them to stick with their regulars in the lineup rather than playing a youngster like Meadows. However, with their playoff chances now dashed, the Rays may be more inclined to give Meadows an increase in playing time for the final weekend of the season.

Meadows has certainly shown that he can hit at the big league level, batting a combined .289 with five home runs in 54 games at the major league level so far. He had been skyrocketing through the Pirates minor league system up until his 2016 and 2017 seasons in Triple-A Indianapolis. Meadows failed to raise his average above .270 and struggled to hit for as much power. That being said, Meadows dispelled a lot of doubts with his 2018 campaign in which he hit .303 in 69 games at Triple-A Indianapolis, resulting in him getting called up to join the big league club.

Meadows was once a top 10 prospect with Pittsburgh, but injuries and his dip in production two years ago caused his stock to drop quite a bit. However, the natural ability is clearly there, and if he stays healthy there is a strong chance that he will be occupying the Rays outfield for many years to come.

Glasnow, on the other hand, is one of the most mystifying talents in baseball right now. He, much like Meadows, was a superstar in the Pirates minor league system, particularly in 2017. He posted an impressive 9-2 record with a stymying 1.93 ERA and 140/32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. One of the biggest reasons for Glasnow’s success is the velocity on his fastball, which is averaging around 96-98 MPH in 2018, according to FanGraphs.

At the major league level, Glasnow has shown flashes of promise but has also been extremely inconsistent. He has had several impressive outings in which he strikes out five or more batters and is able to pitch six or seven innings of quality baseball. Conversely, he has also had a few outings in which he gets torched right off the bat and barely makes it out of the first inning. The stuff is clearly there, and Glasnow is still just 25 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to find that consistency that he will need to be a starter in the majors.

At the end of the day, the Tampa Bay Rays received three young players, two of whom are major league ready, in return for a pitcher whose performance has been gradually regressing for the last three seasons. What makes Archer’s decline even scarier for Pirates fans is the fact that he is under contract until the 2022 season. Archer will be earning $7.5 million in 2019, and $8.2 million in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. While the contract is not exactly horrible, it is still a steep price for a pitcher who has a worse ERA than the other four starters in Pittsburgh’s rotation.

The money, the lengthy contract, and the prospects surrendered as part of the Archer trade may come to haunt the Pittsburgh Pirates more than they ever thought, especially if the team fails to reach the playoffs in the next several years.

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