Chris Archer’s Obvious Fit With the Dodgers

For months, people have been anticipating a terrible midseason market for starting pitchers. With the deadline right around the corner, some are offering that this is one of the worst markets in memory, in terms of how little is available. As the theory goes, when markets are this bad, teams selling get to over-charge, taking advantage of the limited supply and excess demand. What happens in reality is that an equilibrium is reached. Teams that might not have been inclined to sell find themselves intrigued by the market, so additional players become available. One such player at present could be Chris Archer.

The Rays have been thinking about selling for a while — they’ve lost way too many games, so rumors have surrounded arms like Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and Matt Moore. Archer is better than those guys, and he’s affordable for the next five years. Because of his contract, the Rays should feel no urgency to move him. But then, every pitcher is kind of a short-term acquisition, in a sense, and the market is what it is. Archer would make for a high-profile splash, and I don’t think he’d fit anywhere better than he’d fit with the Dodgers.

I’m not the only person thinking like this. I’d guess odds are still against Archer going anywhere, but if he moves, the Dodgers seem like the best spot. Surveying the standings, there are several teams who could use a starter, but few of them have the Dodgers’ organizational resources. The Astros could step up to the plate if they wanted to dangle Alex Bregman. The Rangers could make a play if they floated Joey Gallo, or maybe Jurickson Profar. The Dodgers are far from the only option, but they are the only team that has a Clayton Kershaw on the sidelines. It’s not clear when Kershaw will be able to return, if he’s able to return this season, so the Dodgers should have a certain urgency. They’re not hurting for depth, but they’re hurting. So many of them are hurting.

Reports have gone around that teams have made proposals for Archer, and the Rays have perhaps literally laughed them off. I first read that in a Ken Rosenthal article, and it’s not a total surprise. Archer does have a mid-4s ERA. I’m sure there are teams who think they can buy him low.

But that isn’t how the Rays operate. The Dodgers’ front office, obviously, would be familiar with how the Rays’ front office thinks. Archer is owed something in the vicinity of $40 million between now and the end of 2021. And at the end of the commitment, there are a couple team options, increasing the value of the contract for the club even more. The Rays think in terms of surplus values. The Dodgers think similarly, and Archer’s surplus value is through the roof. Both teams are able to recognize that, and that makes reaching an agreement easier.

In terms of performance, Archer hasn’t been where he was last year, and that is an issue. His value is down, slightly. On the other hand, he’s already improved.

Chris Archer, 2016
Split ERA- FIP- xFIP- K-BB% 1st-Strike% Z-O Swing% Contact% Strike%
First 10 GS 126 111 85 16% 53% 36% 75% 61%
Last 11 GS 102 90 84 19% 60% 30% 72% 63%

It’s best not to focus on Archer playing the role of a sure-fire No. 1. He can look like that kind of pitcher, but he’s more of a No. 2. Think of him like that and you’re less likely to come away disappointed. Among qualified starters this season, Archer has allowed the sixth-lowest contact rate, and four of the five names in front of him work in the National League. There’s no question that Archer is hard to hit. And this year, he’s faced arguably the toughest lineups of anyone. His opposition quality has been high. According to Baseball-Reference, Archer has made 18 of his 21 starts against teams .500 or better. His average opponent has had a 106 wRC+. You know who has a 106 wRC+? Anthony Rendon. Todd Frazier. Khris Davis. That’s what Archer’s been up against. So he’s definitely deserved better, even if he’s still been below the 2015 standard.

The way I see it, Archer is a lot like Tyson Ross. A healthy Tyson Ross, I mean. They have similar profiles, and before Ross got hurt, he had plenty of trade value, that the Padres elected to squander. Ross, like Archer, isn’t a classic No. 1. He doesn’t have the precision. But the swings and misses are there, constantly, and when you fold in Archer’s long-term cost certainty, he’d be a hell of an asset.

The Dodgers know all this. The Rays know all this. The Dodgers don’t need a Kershaw replacement, but they could use something in there, given all the other rotation uncertainty. Archer last year cleared 200 innings. His arm should be able to hold up, and that’s another plus, given concerns about pitchers like Drew Pomeranz and Rich Hill. If you get Archer, you get him for 2016, and you get him through as far away as 2021, if you want. Long-term, he’d fit with anyone. It’s reflected by his surplus value.

If you want to be optimistic, that surplus value could be as high as about $150 million. A more conservative estimate would be around $100 million, but that’s still a ton for a player potentially available on the midseason market. The Dodgers could still meet that with relative ease. Let’s figure that Julio Urias is unavailable. Let’s also figure that Jose De Leon is unavailable. I doubt the Dodgers want to move guys who could potentially help this season. What’s next? The Dodgers could start by offering Cody Bellinger. They could then add Alex Verdugo, and Austin Barnes, who seems like a Rays type. In the Baseball America midseason top-100 list, Bellinger ranked 24th, and Verdugo ranked 44th. Both are position players. Barnes isn’t on that list, but he’s a big-league-ready catcher who also comes with some positional versatility. Barnes could join the Rays immediately, and then Bellinger and Verdugo would be a year or two off.

There are, of course, countless options. That package up there is probably still light, so you could fold in a Jharel Cotton or Grant Holmes. Maybe the Dodgers would float De Leon. He’d make for a hell of a centerpiece, and the Rays would be attracted to his advanced timeline. The Dodgers are the best organizational fit, in part because they have so many various organizational fits. Archer would help them today, and down the road. He would help to build out the long-term rotation. The Dodgers could afford the cost without touching the big-league roster.

Chances are, nothing happens. And if something does happen, well, it’s usually best to bet the field. The most obvious move is far from any kind of guarantee. But if the Rays are indeed willing to trade Chris Archer, they’ll have a match in Los Angeles. It helps an awful lot to speak the same language.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Shirtless George Brett
Shirtless George Brett

Seems like a strange idea. The Rays arent contenders right now, but Archer is only 27, exceptionally cheap and under team control. Why sell him off? If the Rays can sell off other parts to help them rebuild then potentially Archer could still be a significant piece in 2 or 3 years when they are ready to contend again.

Unless the Rays plan to completely burn it to the ground I dont see the point of trading Archer really.


I agree, it seems like a Billy Beane kind of thing to do, except for the selling low part.

If they did want to go back to square one (or is it ground zero?), they should also see what they could get for Longoria. If he wasn’t the face of the franchise, that would be actually be the more obvious move for the Rays right now.

Concerned Reader John
Concerned Reader John

I don’t disagree that Archer could help the next contending Rays team but the Rays would be foolish if they didn’t listen to offers. His surplus value in the next season and a half (or however long the non-contention window lasts) is worth more to a contending team than a rebuilding one, so they could find another team willing to pay a premium for wins today that aren’t particularly valuable to the Rays. Sure, prospects are inherently risky, but so are pitchers – the Rays can’t assume Archer will be the same in three years.