The Pirates will pick up right-hander Chris Archer’s $9MM club option for the 2020 season, Nubyjas Wilborn of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. Pittsburgh could have paid Archer a $1.75MM buyout but will now have him locked in for the upcoming season. His contract also contains an $11MM option (with a $250K buyout) for the 2021 campaign.
Archer, 31, simply hasn’t panned out as hoped in Pittsburgh. The Buccos shipped prospects Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz to Tampa Bay in order to acquire three and a half cost-controlled seasons of Archer in what now looks like one of the more regrettable deals in recent memory. Both Glasnow and Meadows have flourished with the Rays, while Archer has given the Pirates a combined 172 innings of 4.92 ERA ball in his season and a half wearing black and yellow.
Archer was long seen as a pitcher with some yet-untapped upside, and the friendly nature of his contract surely made him all the more appealing for recently fired general manager Neal Huntington and a Pirates front office that is regularly working under some of the game’s tightest payroll restrictions. Whether the Bucs would’ve been so motivated to acquire Archer with more financial support from ownership can’t be known — just as it’s impossible to tell whether Glasnow and/or Meadows would’ve broken out to the same extent in Pittsburgh as they did in St. Petersburg. The bottom-line result, however, is a trade that has paid major dividends for the Tampa Bay organization but not for Pittsburgh. The ill-fated swap surely contributed to owner Bob Nutting’s recent organizational shakeup, which saw Huntington dismissed and assistant GM Kevan Graves tabbed as interim general manager.
The Pirates initially pushed Archer to dust off a two-seam fastball that he’d shelved years ago with the Rays, and the results weren’t pretty. The right-hander eventually scrapped that pitch over the summer and returned to a four-seam-heavy approach with his heater, though the results weren’t exactly encouraging. Archer pitched to a 4.65 ERA in 12 starts (60 innings) after ditching that pitch, although his strikeout rate (31.4 percent) and swinging-strike rate (13.6 percent) upon changing his pitch selection were markedly better than they were with the two-seamer. A shoulder injury, however, halted Archer’s season in late August.
Given his average velocity in that time (94.4 mph) and those encouraging swinging-strike trends, Archer could yet appeal to clubs who hope to coax better results out of the right-hander. Moving him now would clearly be selling low and would net a much lesser return than what the Pirates initially surrendered, but trade options for contenders seeking rotation help this winter are limited. If the Bucs opt to hold onto him in hopes of building some value in the season’s first half, Archer would likely emerge as a trade candidate next summer, so long as he proves healthy.