An annual tradition as reliable as candy canes on the tree, lights on the house, and eggnog being disgusting.
It’s Cubs-after-Chris-Archer-trade-rumor time!
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) December 9, 2017
Up front, I’ve gotta give you the rundown of caveats: (1) “seem likely to pursue” is fuzzy enough language that this could be outright speculation, albeit sufficiently obvious that it’s probably true in any case; (2) the Cubs have been in on Archer since time immemorial, so there’s not necessarily a lot of newness here; and (3) Rogers’ record of late has been … spotty.
So, then, I’ll take this more an opportunity only to tee up the conversation, which is going to come up again at some point next week at the Winter Meetings.
We’ve talked about the Cubs and Archer so frequently – and the two have been legitimately connected by rumors – that you probably long know the drill by now. Archer, 29, was famously included by the Cubs in the trade for Matt Garza before the 2011 season, later emerging as a very solid starter for the Rays. Archer is signed to a deal that pays him just $6.2 million next year, $7.5 million in 2019, and comes with team options in 2020 ($9 million, $1.8 million buyout) and 2021 ($11 million). To say his contract is a bargain is a supreme understatement.
Relatedly, though, it’s fair to say that Archer has settled in as more of a very good starting pitcher than an ace. Although he posted ERAs in the 3.20-3.30 range from 2013 to 2015, he was at 4.02 last year, and 4.07 this season. His peripherals have typically been as good or better than the ERA, but what makes you just a touch cautious is the fact that he’s always given up a fair bit of hard contact, and does not have a great groundball rate. Things reached their worst level on that front in 2017, when Archer’s 42.0% groundball rate was the lowest of his career, and his 39.4% hard contact rate was the second worst in baseball. His meager 13.2% soft contact rate? The worst.
At 29 and with a strikeout rate that continues to climb, there’s certainly still some upside potential with Archer. His 29.2% K rate this year was the best of his career, and the 7th best in baseball. He paired it with a mere 7.0% BB rate, which made his K-BB spread the 8th largest in baseball. The dude can pitch. No question. He just gave up a whole lot of hard contact, and that should at least give you some pause. With the Cubs, he’d also continue working with his long-time pitching coach, Jim Hickey. For whatever directly that cuts for you.
Given the contract, though, Archer is still extremely valuable on the trade market. If the Cubs seriously wanted to acquire him, you better be prepared for them to part with one of their good young big leaguers AND several pitching prospects.
For future planning purposes, having Archer locked into the rotation at his contract rate would open up so much for the Cubs in the next few years as they look to stay in a competitive window, pay escalating arbitration salaries, and be aggressive in free agency … all while staying under the luxury tax limit.
Hey, maybe after today’s Giancarlo Stanton trade to the Yankees, the Rays will be slightly more willing to entertain a rebuilding year in 2018, when they can get the most value possible for Archer. (Of course, if the Rays make Archer available to every team, there will be some HUGE prospect-centered offers for him, and the Cubs would have difficulty competing.)
As for Alex Colome, well, we’ve been really lukewarm on him since he first emerged in rumors. He’s headed into his arbitration years as a guy who’s racked up a lot of saves (that always inflates the price tag), and he’s coming off a season in which his strikeout rate plummeted from 31.4% in 2016 to just 20.6% in 2017. Worse, that latter mark is pretty much where he’s been in his career, making it look like his dominating 2016 season was an aberration. Oh, and the 8.2% walk rate in 2017 was the worst of his career. Oh, and he also got suspended for steroids back in 2014.
If the Rays want to give Colome away to save the salary, cool. Fine. But if they want significant value for him? Pass.