The Tampa Bay Rays have made a habit of locking up their young talent before it reaches arbitration over the years, as those are the kind of gambles that a small-market team is forced to take.
It has worked out more times than not, with Evan Longoria and Matt Moore being two notable cases, and has become more and more common across the league over the past few years.
With the season just getting underway, the Rays were at it again on Wednesday, as they locked right-hander Chris Archer up to a six-year, $25.5 million deal.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports first broke news of the deal being around $25 million, with Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com confirming that the deal is worth $25.5 million:
Sources: #Rays agree to six-year extension with RHP Chris Archer in range of $25M. Deal begins this season and includes two club options.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) April 2, 2014
Chris Archer agrees to 6-yr deal with rays. 1st agreement report @Ken_Rosenthal. Said worth $25.5M.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) April 2, 2014
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the deal also includes two option years, so the Rays can control him through what would have been his first three years of free agency if both are exercised. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times clarified that the option years are worth a combined $18.25 million.
Source: The club options on Chris Archer's deal total around $20M. If both options exercised, deal will be for eight years and about $45M.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 2, 2014
Per #Rays release, Archer deal guarantees $25.5 million, maxes out at $43.75 million— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) April 2, 2014
There is obvious risk in a deal like this, considering the fact that Archer has just 29 games and 158 big league innings under his belt. However, he showed enough last season that this looks like another shrewd move by an organization that continues to squeeze the most out of its financial situation.
"We're betting on guys who have a burning desire to be great," GM Andrew Friedman said at the press conference to announce the deal (via Rays twitter account). "That's front and center here today."
He took home Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors for the Cubs in 2010, going 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 142.1 innings between High-A and Double-A. That sent his stock soaring, and he checked in at No. 27 on Baseball America's Top 100 heading into the 2011 season.
Still in win-now mode rather than looking to the future, the Cubs packaged Archer along with four other prospects and shipped him to the Rays for right-hander Matt Garza prior to the start of the 2011 campaign.
After getting a cup of coffee down the stretch in 2012, Archer was called up for good on June 1 last season. He wound up making 23 starts on the year, going 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 101 strikeouts in 128.1 innings of work.
That earned him a third-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting, as teammate Wil Myers took home the honors and slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias finished second.
Archer received just one first-place vote, but would have had a second if I had a ballot.
Myers was great, and he's going to be an absolute beast in this league, but the Rays don't make the playoffs without Archer in my opinion.
With Alex Cobb on the shelf and David Price still rounding into form after an injury of his own, Archer carried the pitching staff through a dominant month of July that saw the team go 21-5.
In five starts, he went 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA and .140 BAA, and that included a two-hit shutout of the New York Yankees to close out the month. There were some bumps along the way, as he closed out the season with a 4.13 ERA over the final two months, but his contributions in July were huge nonetheless.
As good as his rookie season was, there is still plenty of room for Archer to improve as a pitcher, which is what makes this deal great.
The 25-year-old essentially got by on a fastball/sinker/slider combination last year, and those three pitches were all awfully effective.
That 95.7 MPH average fastball was one of the highest in all of baseball among starters, and his slider checked in as the 23rd-most valuable according to FanGraphs.
The X-factor here is his changeup, and if he can develop that into even a league-average pitch, it would make his other pitches that much more effective.
It's no surprise, then, that refining his circle-change was the focus of the offseason for Archer, and he agrees that the pitch could make his other stuff even better.
"I think it's just an added weapon to my arsenal," Archer told Spencer Fordin of MLB.com. "It will be something that they'll have to respect and it will make my other pitches better."
With the future of ace David Price still in question and the odds still high that he winds up pitching somewhere else before he hits the free-agent market after the 2015 season, the Rays will need the rest of their staff to step up.
Can Chris Archer become a superstar down the road?
Matt Moore is already locked up through 2016—and could be around through 2019 with option years—and he has long been viewed as the future ace of the staff.
Alex Cobb also looks like an extension candidate and a key piece of the future, while rookie Jake Odorizzi looks to prove he belongs as well this season.
At the end of the day, though, it may very well be Archer who leads this staff once Price has moved on.
"Few things in life are guaranteed, and the Rays have guaranteed me six years," Archer said at his press conference (via Rays twitter account). "I'm going to give them everything I can."
Given the ever-growing cost of pitching and the upside Archer possesses, this extension has a chance to be one of the best bargains in all of baseball when all is said and done. It was a risk well worth taking for the Rays.