Seeking an upgrade for the front of their rotation, the Brewers recently circled back with the Rays to inquire on the availability of Chris Archer, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). A deal appears unlikely, though, Rosenthal adds, as Tampa Bay may not hold Domingo Santana or Brett Phillips in high enough regard to serve as a centerpiece.
After speaking with Rays GM Erik Neander, Archer recently expressed confidence to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that he’d remain with the Rays to open the season. The Rays understandably have a huge asking price on Archer, who is on one of the more team-friendly contracts in all of baseball. Tampa Bay controls Archer $33.75MM over the next four seasons, and only the first two years are even guaranteed; his deal contains club options for the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. Archer is only guaranteed $15.5MM over the next two seasons, so in the event of a catastrophic injury, the team that controls him could cut ties and be off the hook without even needing to pay the entire $33.75MM sum remaining on his deal.
While Archer’s ERA over the past two seasons is a hair above 4.00, fielding-independent metrics like FIP (3.60), xFIP (3.38) and SIERA (3.47) all feel he’s been considerably better than his bottom-line run prevention would suggest. Archer has, after all, averaged 10.8 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 with a 44.9 percent ground-ball rate in that span. He’s gotten in trouble with home runs at times — particularly in August and September of last season — but also possesses one of baseball’s best swinging-strike rates (12.8 percent) and lowest contact rates (72.5 percent) in that two-year stretch. Beyond that, he’s made 32 or more starts in each of the past four seasons, averaging 202 innings per year along the way.
It stands to reason that Tampa Bay would have interest in either Santana or Phillips on the surface, as each could potentially be a long-term cog in the outfield. But, while Santana is coming off a strong season (.875 OPS, 30 homers, 3.3 fWAR, 3.0 rWAR), he’s controllable for the same four-year term as Archer and figures to be compensated handsomely in arbitration if he continues to hit for this type of power.
Phillips has six years of control and is not far removed from ranking as one of MLB’s best overall prospects. (Baseball America still ranked him 80th this offseason, in fact.) However, he struck out at a 30 percent rate in Triple-A last year and a 35 percent pace in the Majors. His overall offensive output in Triple-A (.305/.377/.567) and in the Majors (.276/.351/.448) both look strong on the surface, but both were buoyed by a BABIP north of .400 that is assuredly due for regression.
Finding a slugging corner outfielder, especially in today’s game, and a strikeout-prone center fielder with speed and power isn’t as difficult as finding a durable, 200-inning arm who ranks among the game’s best swing-and-miss artists — especially when said pitcher can affordably sit near the top of a rotation from his age-29 through age-32 campaigns.
Certainly, the Brewers have other top-ranked talent that could be added to any theoretical package. In addition to Phillips, second baseman Keston Hiura, third baseman Lucas Erceg, and right-handers Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff have all placed on various top 100 rankings early in 2018, and their system possesses enviable depth beyond those top few names. Rosenthal, however, suggests that Milwaukee may be reluctant to further deplete its farm after parting with three of its better prospects in Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Isan Diaz to acquire Christian Yeilch. (The team also punted its third-round pick and the associated slot money in the 2018 draft to sign Lorenzo Cain.)
The Brewers figure to be connected to just about every pitching upgrade on the market in the weeks leading up to Spring Training, having already made an offer to Yu Darvish while also showing various degrees of interest in fellow free agents Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb. One would imagine they’ve checked in with the Royals on Danny Duffy and the Tigers on Michael Fulmer as well, given the rebuilding efforts taking place in Kansas City and Detroit, for instance.