Rays Plan to Keep Archer, Trade to Cubs Doesn’t Make Much Sense Anyway

Time for your monthly Chris Archer buzzkill. Okay, maybe we’re not talking about him quite that often, but no player has been tied to the Cubs more frequently than the Rays pitcher. They traded for him as a prospect prior to the 2009 season as part of the return for Mark DeRosa, then flipped him to Tampa two years later in the Matt Garza deal. And Cubs fans have been trying to get Archer back ever since.

Along with Josh Donaldson, Archer is at the top of the “One Who Got Away” list, though you can’t really blame the Cubs for dealing away a scrawny starter with questionable control. As he has matured, however, Archer has flashed the kind of stuff that makes scouts salivate. But if you’re hungry for him, it’s going to cost way more than a dinner at Everest.

And that’s why it may not be quite as worthwhile for the Cubs to pursue the righty as an anchor for their rotation. Not that Archer wouldn’t make them better, he absolutely would. But they really don’t need to add an ace-type pitcher given the pieces they’ve already got in place. The package Tampa would require return would surely be headlined by at least one young major leaguer, thereby mitigating much of the incremental value Archer would add.

And from the sounds of it, the Rays aren’t interested in parting with their top starter at all. If, that is, you believe what GM Erik Neander shared on MLB Network Radio recently.

“(Chris Archer) is a guy we need to find a way to build around,” said Neander, who also referred to Archer as “one of our core guys.”

Now, a pragmatic person might listen to that and assume that Neander is simply playing hard to get in an effort to increase Archer’s value. As if he even needs to. Whether there’s any truth to that or not, the fact remains that the Rays would demand a king’s ransom in the event that they’re willing to market their pitcher after all.

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports predicted that the Cubs would indeed land Archer for a package headlined by Addison Russell. If it was a straight-up swap, maybe it makes sense. But it’d surely take a couple more prospects, at least one of whom is sure to be a pitcher, to get things done. And it might require even more than that. Having already emptied out the upper tier of their system in July, a trade of this magnitude would be hard to pull off.

When you consider the exorbitant price in terms of human capital, even Archer’s incredibly reasonable contract could be burdensome. That’d take a lot, though. At barely north of $16 million guaranteed over the next two seasons, we’re talking about a crazy bargain. After that, his salary jumps to a mere $9 million (team option with a $1.75M buyout) in 2020 and $11 million (team option, $250K buyout) in 2021.

Even a budget-conscious team like Tampa can easily stomach that kind of deal for the next few years, so it’s not as if they need to be in any hurry to dump the contract. And even if they were, trading for an arbitration-eligible shortstop with Russell’s potential doesn’t represent much of a savings. And with a new stadium in the offing, the Rays would do well to hold onto a marquis player whose personality is as electric as his performance.

All things considered, I’m inclined to take Neander at his word and believe that Archer will be staying in Tampa for at least the next two seasons. Ah, but few things are carved in stone, and I guess nothing would really shock me.

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