A Chris Archer trade would be costly for Dodgers, but would check a lot of boxes

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Chris Archer has been the white whale of Dodgers Digest, as we’ve been collectively pining for him basically since Andrew Friedman was hired away from the Rays. While fans will obviously always desire acquiring impact talent, a trade doesn’t always make realistic sense for one reason or another, but this off-season could be the perfect time for both the Dodgers and Rays to talk for real.

Will Chris Archer be available?

The Rays haven’t explicitly said Archer is available, and they probably won’t since they likely aren’t desperate to move him. However, Jon Heyman did report that the Rays will be willing to listen to offers.

The Tampa Bay Rays, perennially disadvantaged by revenue restraints, are gauging interest in some of their top players, including star pitcher Chris Archer – talks that carry the potential to shake up the market, if they ultimately decide to rebuild. “We’re listening right now,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said.

Even doing more than listening would be understandable for the Rays, as their current position is unenviable. In the AL East, the Yankees now look like World Series contenders more than ever, but it was the Red Sox that actually won the division last year. Competing with either team seems unrealistic, and while two Wild Card spots gives every team that can hang around .500 a chance, it seems like an uphill battle to beat out any of the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Twins, Astros, or even Angels.

If I were a Rays fan, well … I’d want the ownership to spend until they go broke. But barring that possibility, this seems like as prime an opportunity as any for them to rebuild. A wonderful way to get that process started is to trade their cheap, impact starter to a team with a bunch of premium prospects … like the Dodgers. Just saying.

Is Chris Archer worth trading for?

After Archer’s first two full seasons in the majors this would’ve been a no-brainer, and it still is to a certain extent, but his past two campaigns have at least raised an inkling of doubt in whether he would be worth the cost.

The rising ERA over the sample size of two seasons has to be somewhat of a concern, but his strikeout rate is elite (similar to Clayton Kershaw) and his walk rate is comfortably clear of average (similar to Max Scherzer). That has helped keep his FIP and DRA looking mighty sexy looking, but even with the spiking homer rates, Archer’s HR/FB sticks out like a sore thumb (similar to Jeff Samardzija).

So based on his statistical profile, the primary worry with Archer is his ability to manage contact. When looking deeper into that, there wasn’t a whole lot to debunk the theory that giving up hard contact has been an issue the past two years. In 2016, out of 420 pitches with 100 batted ball events, Archer ranked 360th in average exit velocity allowed at 89.2 mph, and he surrendered a 32.8% hard-contact rate that was good for 17th-worst among qualified starters. In 2017, out of 438 pitchers with 100 batted ball events, Archer ranked 416th in average exit velocity allowed at 89.0 mph, which goes hand-in-hand with his 39.4% hard contact rate that was 2nd-worst among qualified starters. Not great.

Need more to talk yourself out of Archer? Well he left his start on September 2 of last year with forearm tightness, and although there was no structural damage, the injury is commonly a precursor to a ligament issue. After leaving that start, Archer didn’t miss one the rest of the season, but he also put up a 7.48 ERA in just 21.1 September innings. Sorta scary.

All that said, if Archer checks out as healthy, he’s still a pitcher with a floor as a quality mid-rotation option (~3 WAR) like he was in 2016 and a ceiling as one of the best starters in the league (+5 WAR) like he was in 2015. So despite recent concerns, it’s difficult to talk oneself out of that kind of talent. That’s especially true for the Dodgers, where an impact right-handed starter like Archer would fit nicely into their lefty-heavy rotation, not only for this year but into the future as well.

What will Chris Archer cost?

In the wake of the Dodgers missing out on Giancarlo Stanton, there has been a lot of talk about cost. In Stanton’s case that cost was in dollars, but in Archer’s case most of the cost will be in talent.

Archer will cost the Dodgers money as well, but his contract is remarkably cheap. Archer will make $6.25 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019, $9 million in 2020 (team option, $1.75 million buyout), and $11 million in 2021 (team option, $0.25 million buyout). So four years of team control left for bargain bin prices that the Dodgers can definitely take on.

Of course, due to Archer’s contract, the cost in prospects is going to be significant. Due to his extra year of control, Archer would likely require a return greater than what the White Sox got from the Cubs for Jose Quintana. Quintana netted Eloy Jimenez (Top 15), Dylan Cease (Top 100), Matt Rose, and Bryant Flete, so a combination of a top hitting prospect and a top pitching prospect seems to be the foundation that a deal would be built around.

So how would that apply to the Dodgers, right? Well, back in July, Dustin wrote about Archer as a potential trade deadline move, suggesting a prospect package of Alex Verdugo, Yadier Alvarez, Willie Calhoun, Yusniel Diaz, and Trevor Oaks.

Yes, it’s a lot. But to get a guy of Archer’s caliber, it’s going to take something like this. The Rays are getting three of the Dodgers’ Top 5 prospects (from my latest rankings), a big-money signing in Diaz who is improving and an MLB-ready pitcher in Oaks. He’s on the disabled list right now with an oblique injury, but he can slot into a rotation or bullpen as soon as he’s healthy. Calhoun and Verdugo could be in the Rays’ lineup tomorrow, if need be. I know the Rays like Alvarez, so he might have a bit more value to them than other teams.

I think it was fair proposal, though obviously it’d have to be altered now. Perhaps something like Verdugo (Top 25), Alvarez (Top 50), Diaz (Top 100), Will Smith, and Jordan Sheffield would get it done. Even if it’s not exact, the point is the price for the Dodgers will be high, and it’ll take something like two of the system’s best, another one or two from the team’s Top 10, and one or two talented fliers that the Rays like.

That would be costly to the system, but I believe it remains solid afterward, and I’m not sure how much it would actually hurt the Dodgers. Realistically, there isn’t a clear path to becoming a Dodgers regular for any prospect other than Walker Buehler (even he could be squeezed out if Julio Urias returns on point) and whatever relief guys emerge, mostly due to the solid work the front office has done with the roster. Sure, second base is open when Logan Forsythe becomes a free agent next year, but the Dodgers have no premium prospect at the position anyway. Elsewhere, there’s a backlog of starters and outfielders as it is, and the rest of the infield is essentially set for a while. Thus trading from likely unusable depth for a true impact talent is justifiable even if the cost is significant.

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While I wouldn’t describe this trade happening as likely, I do think it makes a lot of sense for the situations of both teams, now more than ever. It’s probably time for the Rays to look more toward the long-term rather than trying to claw their way into a Wild Card spot, and the Dodgers seem primed to upgrade their short-term chances, especially since it’s unlikely to crater their future.

Something to think about during the Winter Meetings madness.

About Chad Moriyama

Chad Moriyama
"A highly rational Internet troll." - Los Angeles Times