In Hindsight, Tampa Bay Fleeced Pittsburgh in Chris Archer Trade

The Tampa Bay Rays fleeced the Pittsburgh Pirates at last season’s Major League Baseball trade deadline.

The Rays sent hard-throwing right-hander Chris Archer to the Pirates for outfielder Austin Meadows and then 24-year-old right-hander Tyler Glasnow. It was a transaction viewed as the Pirates looking to contend and the Rays continuing a teardown. Well, nine months later, it has become a trade that has enhanced the Rays’ playoff aspirations and stripped the Pirates of two potential franchise players.

Currently 11-3, the Rays are in first place in the American League East. Their offense is humming, their pitching staff is pitching to its capabilities, and they’re flying under the radar given the constant attention that goes the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees’ way; Meadows and Glasnow have been driving forces to the Rays’ early dominance.

Hitting .367 while totaling six home runs and 15 RBIs, Meadows has been a vital source of offense in manager Kevin Cash‘s lineup. He can hit for contact, but has pop in his bat, can draw walks, and is already one of the best leadoff hitters in the sport. Last season the right fielder appeared in just 10 games for the Rays, but hit .292 in the 154 at-bats he was given with the Pirates. Sure, he has to limit the strikeouts, but the sky is the limit for the former super prospect.

With the dust from the trade now settled, it has become clear: the @RaysBaseball absolutely fleeced the @Pirates in 2018's trade of Chris Archer. @RPStratakos looks into it.Click To Tweet

Meadows is a part of a Rays lineup that features the likes of Tommy Pham, Kevin Kiermaier, Avisail Garcia, Yandy Diaz, and Willy Adames. Plus, Joey Wendle and Matt Duffy have combined for just seven at-bats this season due to injury. Think about how productive this offense will be when the two infielders are healthy.

Meanwhile, Glasnow has been one of the most intriguing stories in MLB this season. After recording an underwhelming 4.20 ERA in the 11 starts he made for the Rays last season, Glasnow has taken his game to the next level. He has surrendered only one run in three starts, is striking batters out at a high rate, and keeping runners off base.

Given the Rays’ bullpen day strategy, they only have three true starting pitchers, but they’re all excelling and/or potent forces on the rubber every fifth day. Blake Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young Award, is arguably the best left-handed starter in the sport, an innings eater, and unhittable when he’s in a rhythm; Charlie Morton signed a two-year deal with the Rays in the offseason, is efficient, a big-game pitcher, and works out of trouble; Glasnow is on the rise.

On the other hand, Archer’s tenure with the Pirates has been a shaky ride. In the 10 starts he made for the Pirates last season, he recorded a 4.30 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. He had a couple of encouraging starts, but other than those select outings, Archer was hit hard, didn’t pitch deep into games, and put too many runners on base.

When the Pirates acquired Archer, giving up Meadows and Glasnow seemed like a steep price to pay, especially given the high esteem that Meadows was held in. But Glasnow’s struggles and the potential for Archer to return to being the ace-caliber starter that he was pre-2016 was intriguing enough for general manager Neal Huntington to pull the trigger.

Before 2016, Archer was one of the best pitchers in baseball. He had an overpowering fastball, recorded an ERA of, at most, 3.33 from 2013-15, and was the Rays undisputed ace. Through both the good and bad times, he was able to record strikeouts at a high rate and pitch back into counts. And, for what it’s worth, Archer has surrendered just three runs in the two starts he has made this season. But he still hasn’t pitched deep into games, and a revitalization of the All-Star right-hander appears unlikely.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – APRIL 05: Tyler Glasnow #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the second inning of a Major League Baseball game on Opening Day at Oracle Park on April 5, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Now, the Pirates have an underrated roster. Their lineup is quietly a reliable unit with Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli, and, when healthy, Corey Dickerson and Gregory Polanco. On the hill, they have Archer, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, and Jordan Lyles. The Pirates’ problem is that they play in a deep division, the National League Central, which includes the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals; they’re the fourth-best team in the division.

Plus, if they want to be in the playoff race, the Pirates need their rotation to be electric, and that starts with Archer. In each of the last three seasons, a big question has been whether Archer will ever return to being the dynamic pitcher of old. It didn’t happen in 2017, or last year, and there’s doubt as to whether it’ll happen this season.

Concurrently, even if Archer has a monster season and establishes himself as manager Clint Hurdle‘s ace, the Rays will still have won last season’s blockbuster trade. The aforementioned scenario is a best-case outcome for the Pirates. The best-case outcome for Meadows is he becomes a star outfielder and the face of the Rays. For Glasnow, it’s forming an elite one-two pitching punch with Snell. Do either of those scenarios seem outlandish based on their production to this point in their respective careers, as well as their high ceilings? Even if you think they are, it’s safe to say that one of the two plays into their potential, and that alone makes the deal worth it for the Rays.

Meadows is becoming a franchise player; Glasnow is coming into his own as a top-of-the-rotation force; Archer’s most memorable moment with the Pirates has been throwing behind Derek Dietrich and starting a brawl. To this point, it has been a one-sided trade. Advantage Rays.

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