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Exploring a potential trade for Chris Archer

Winter Meetings rumors are swirling and the Rays ace might be the best player available

Tampa Bay Rays v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Cardinals are searching for an impact bat. Chris Archer is a pitcher and not an impact bat. On the surface, pursuing Archer doesn’t appear to fulfill the Cardinals stated needs. If we remove bat from the equation above and limit the Cardinals search to impact, then Chris Archer most definitely applies. He might be the best player currently available, and despite the Cardinals rotation looking fairly set, he would make a big difference on the outlook for the Cardinals this season.

As for whether he would be an upgrade, Chris Archer has exceeded 200 innings in each of the last three years. His 4.6 WAR last season was 10th among pitchers, and his 13 wins over the last three seasons is bettered by only seven pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Jake Arrieta, Jose Quintana, and Zach Greinke. Only Archer, Sale and Quintana will play next season under the age of 30.

His ERA was 4.07, which in this hyped up offensive era playing in the AL East is still above-average, but his FIP was 3.40 and a better indication of his outlook going forward. Projections agree as Steamer gives Archer a 3.43 ERA and 4.3 WAR for next season. If you look at his Baseball-Reference WAR of 1.2 last season, it might give you pause. Baseball-Reference uses runs allowed and then makes an adjustment based on team defense. The Rays defense was overall very good causing a negative adjustment of nearly a win.

Archer did not actually see the benefits of this good defense as seen by his .325 BABIP, about 30 points over his career average, a LOB% lower than his career average, and an xwOBA of .292, which is 20 points lower than his actual wOBA of .311. Archer strikes out 29% of batters and walks just 7% pitching against the designated hitter. He is an ace, and a rotation fronted by Archer and Carlos Martinez would be tough for any team to match.

As for whether Archer is available, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times says there is considerable interest:

The Rays also are getting a predictable high volume of interest in starting RHP Chris Archer, who is under control for four years at a very reasonable $34 million, with the Braves, Brewers and Twins joining the Cards, Cubs and others. As one competing exec said when asked how many teams were in on Archer, "Who wouldn’t be."

Derrick Goold had this to say about that article:

The Cardinals rotation is already good. Depending on who exits the rotation, this move would make the Cardinals around 2.5 wins better next season and might make them the best rotation in the majors. Trading for Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna would likely have a similar impact. Trading for Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado would make a bigger impact, but would only bring that upgrade for a single year.

In November, I proposed the following deal for Archer as part of my ideal offseason.

Cardinals trade Jack Flaherty, Carson Kelly, Aledmys Diaz, Jordan Hicks, and Harrison Bader for Chris Archer

This one is going to hurt. Say goodbye to Yadi’s heir, a top pitching prospect and three other intriguing, top-100ish pieces. The Rays live on young, cost-controlled talent and getting a pitcher who can step in right away plus a catcher who is ready for the majors now, but could share the job with Wilson Ramos for one year helps them right now. The Rays middle infield situation isn’t great and Diaz could compete their for a starting job or at least play a utility role. Hicks has a ton of upside, and Bader might be able to compete for a spot in the outfield depending on how the team re-arranges first base and designated hitter.

Archer should command roughly the Quintana/Sale price with a contract that pays him just $33 million over the next four years, and maybe the package above falls a little short, but it is probably pretty close. You could sub out Weaver for Flaherty if that made the optics better.

Obviously Diaz is no longer available so some other substitution would be necessary, but this is probably pretty close to value for a pitcher of Archer’s talents. The team is also looking at Alex Colome, and we explored a potential Evan Longoria move last week. Colome might increase the deal by a little, but I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing him removed from the deal given the high cost usually associated with proven closers.

Given the monetary cost of Archer, that still leaves the possibility of a deal for Yelich or Ozuna where the Cardinals eat some of the salaries the Marlins are hoping to purge from their books in order to give up fewer prospects. The team could also still take on the considerable salaries of Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado.

Everyone wanted the Cardinals to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. It didn’t happen. Trading for Archer would take some of the sting out of that loss and going with Archer plus Yelich, Ozuna, Donaldson, or Machado would have more of an impact—considerably more if it is the latter two—than bringing in Stanton alone. It’s perhaps not the expected offseason for the Cardinals, but it would be an incredibly good outcome and a great offseason for a team hoping to move into the upper echelon of teams. These moves would put them there.