That’s not a typo, you’re not in a dream, the Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired actual major league talent at the trade deadline. About thirty minutes before the end of the deadline the Pirates acquired Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays.
This is without a doubt the biggest trade the Pirates have made since becoming competitive in 2013. A trade like this comes with an aspect the Pittsburgh faithful aren’t used to, trading away big name prospects. In order to get Chris Archer, the Pirates sent centerfielder Austin Meadows, pitcher Tyler Glasnow, and a player to be named later. Tyler and Austin have both been Pittsburgh number one prospects at one point and are definitely talented. There are a lot of angles to this trade, so let’s break it down.
The Centerpiece: Chris Archer
He’s been the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays ever since David Price was traded in 2013. Archer has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the American League over the last four years. He’s put in the fifth most innings, ranked 24th in ERA, third in strikeouts, and sixth in WAR during that time. Pittsburgh has acquired a top of the rotation arm. Keep in mind that Pittsburgh has never paid for an ace, or even a number two, in free agency. Trading is basically the only way Pittsburgh can obtain outside aces, or develop internally.
It’s not all roses with Archer though. He’s put up an ERA just over four over the last two and a half seasons and hasn’t looked like the ace he was going to be in 2015. In ‘16 and ‘17 he was bitten by the long ball even though he was striking batters out left and right. This season he has slowed the bleeding, even while running a career high in BABIP. For the record, every pitcher experienced an increase HRs in ‘16-’17. Archer also pitches in the AL East, one of the worst divisions for limiting homers. Coming to PNC Park should help. Archer has had success against the National League. In 21 games he has a 3.29 ERA, 4.2 K/BB, 1.135 WHIP, and opponents have a .635 OPS.
The most important aspect of the trade isn’t that Archer has ace potential or that he’s in Pittsburgh to help with a stretch run, it’s his contract. The Pirates have acquired a top-tier pitcher for the next three years for less than 8.5 million dollars. Ivan Nova is making more than Chris Archer! Archer will be around to help the Pirates compete for a while. Of course, a deal like this is going to cost a hefty sum.
The Price: Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and PTBNL
Not going to lie, this trade stings a bit. The player to be named later is especially scary due to comments per multiple sources:
The player to be named in the Chris Archer trade, according to a #Rays official, is hardly a throw-in or fringe prospect. It's a player of significant value.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 31, 2018
Team source told me the ptbnl to Tampa Bay will be "significant … the kind of player who our fans already know his name."
— Rob Biertempfel (@RobBiertempfel) July 31, 2018
Depending on how “significant” the prospect is this trade may not feel so great. Let’s focus on the players we do know.
Austin Meadows has been Pittsburgh’s contingency plan for Andrew McCutchen for a long time and he finally made his heroic debut this year. He played so well that he earned Rookie of the Month (May). Austin was so good that he forced the Pirates to create a four-man rotation in the outfield when Starling Marte returned from the disabled list. In mid-June, Austin began to slow down. He was ultimately demoted to AAA just before the All-Star break.
Meadows proved he can play in the majors but there are still some questions about his abilities. He is consistently being injured, especially in regards to his legs and it delayed his development for a few years. His fielding and hitting are good, but he lacks power at the plate and in his arm. He hit five homers in 165 at-bats, all but one came in May. In the majors, he supplied average but not power. The power has been lagging for a while and he’s never hit over .280 in AAA. That being said, he’s only 23 and knows what he’s doing at the plate. The Rays have acquired a player that could be an everyday outfielder or an all-star.
Tyler Glasnow is a hard-throwing tall righty. He gets the furthest extension of any pitcher in the majors, making his 98+ heater look even faster. His biggest issue is without a doubt control. Tyler debuted as a starter last season but quickly lost the job by throwing cookies or balls, nothing in between. He could be a legitimate ace with his stuff if he could just control his pitches. The Pirates placed him in the bullpen this season as he couldn’t learn any more in AAA. He’s had mixed success in that role striking out 11.2 per nine innings but walking one for every two strikeouts.
In order for Glasnow to reach his potential, he needs to pitch in the rotation. He was never going to regularly get that chance when Pittsburgh has other established young pitchers in the rotation. Glasnow would’ve been an effective reliever for Pittsburgh but Tampa Bay is where he could flourish as a starter….or become a reliever.
This is a huge trade for Pittsburgh in a variety of ways. First off, the Pirates have never made a trade like this before and it’s got the fans and players excited for this season and the next. The front office has sent a clear message to the roster that they believe in them and have gotten help for this season and the next. Pittsburgh smartly refused to go after a rental piece. PR-wise it should dispel the notion that management doesn’t care about the team. It’s a lot easier to believe in a team when it seems like the owner believes it too.
Their position in the playoff race isn’t great and they have a minuscule chance at the division title. Instead, the Pirates have acquired a starter that will help them in this year’s playoff race and the next three. Here is what the Pirates rotation could look like in 2020:
- Jameson Taillon, age 28
- Chris Archer, age 31
- Joe Musgrove, age 27
- Trevor Williams, age 28
- One of Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, or Nick Kingham (all under 30)
Four-fifths of Pittsburgh’s 2020 rotation will be in the prime of their careers and under arbitration. It will likely be one of the cheapest and best rotations around. General Manager Neal Huntington is clearly navigating this team to contend very seriously in 2019 and beyond. The addition of Archer will ease the pressure off everyone in the rotation.
Those that are lamenting the loss by stating that the Pirates don’t have any outfield options need to take a second look. On the major league roster, Corey Dickerson still has another of arbitration left and has become one of the team’s best hitters. If the Pirates don’t believe in Corey and don’t extend him there is help in the minors. Remember when Pittsburgh traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen six months ago? Both trades brought outfield prospects. Both are looking pretty good right now.
Jason Martin is 22 and had an OPS over 900 in AA, he has since been promoted to AAA where he has a .762 OPS in 27 games. Bryan Reynolds isn’t playing as well but has also been hampered by a hand injury. The Pirates also have Jordan Luplow. He is more of a classic power-hitting corner outfielder and actually replaced Meadows during his slump. Luplow isn’t going to become an all-star but he could be an everyday player or at least a platoon bat. The Pirates will have options and outfield shouldn’t be an issue as the years go by.
Celebrate or lament?
Fans always want to know if their team won the trade or gave up too much. This time around it honestly seems as if both teams won. With Meadows, the Rays have created a cost-controlled extremely good outfield basically their own version of what the Pirates have done to their rotation. The real question is did the Pirates give up too much? The honest answer right now is no one knows. If the trade was just Glasnow and Meadows then that’s a trade you make with confidence. The addition of a third piece that is “known” by the Pittsburgh faithful is concerning.
This last player could be a young major leaguer or perhaps one of the many middle infielders in AAA. Trading two of their top ten prospects and Tyler Glasnow seems like a lot for a pitcher who hasn’t produced as much as his pedigree would suggest. On the other hand, if Chris Archer becomes an ace than the price will be well worth it. Only time will time. In the meantime, keep reminding yourself that the Pittsburgh Pirates actually went out and traded for Chris Archer….who would’ve thought that six months ago?