Right now, the Chris Archer deal that highlighted the Pirates 2018 trade deadline and probably that entire season looks to be a bust.
Nine months after an eye-opening move by Neal Huntington brought Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates and sent Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz to Tampa, Archer has been mediocre for the Pirates. On the other side, Glasnow has been baseball’s best pitcher in 2019, while Meadows has an OPS above 1.000 in the young season. Both have been key reasons why the Rays currently occupy first place in the AL East.
While only four months of baseball have been played since the trade deadline, it’s hard to see a scenario where the Pirates got the better end of this deal. Even if Archer turns into John Smoltz, the Rays received two (potentially three) quality players while the Pirates got one and only one.
The better Glasnow and Meadows perform, the worse this trade looks for the Bucs, and the more blame will fall on Neal Huntington. The last part of that sentence is funny, considering the Archer trade was the type of deal Pittsburgh has been begging for throughout this decade.
Since the Pirates became competitive again in 2011, Huntington has acquired an established major leaguer on almost an annual basis. From Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick in ’11 to Ivan Nova in 2016, Huntington has consistently made deals to improve his team for the stretch run. While the general manager has undeniably made a slew of baseball savvy moves, he had never made a trade that would be considered a “big splash.”
While the Pirates weren’t afraid to part with prospects such as Jacoby Jones and Robbie Grossman, the best of the best in the club’s farm system was always off limits. This, understandably, frustrated a lot of fans and even Andrew McCutchen, who felt the Pirates were always one key piece away from glory. That key piece would have required Huntington to part with players like Glasnow and Meadows, and hopefully, now, fans can see why he was so reluctant to do so.
The Pirates finally made that big “splash,” last season. While acquiring Archer in 2018 wouldn’t have been the same as getting David Price in 2014 or ’15, he was still the best pitcher on the market, and the Pirates got him. While the trade hasn’t worked out, for the moment, it got the city excited about its baseball team.
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Huntington made this trade knowing, however, that there are plenty of examples of these types of trades going wrong. In 1987, The Tigers wanted Doyle Alexander for the stretch run and gave up the aforementioned future Hall of Famer Smoltz to get him.
Five years before that, the Phillies wanted to dump veteran shortstop Larry Bowa, while the Cubs wanted a slightly younger shortstop. Chicago got both, and the young shortstop became pretty good second baseman. Ryne Sandberg was his name. These are thought of to be two of the most lopsided deals in MLB history, and the Archer trade might be one that’s mentioned in the same breath if things keep going the way they’re going.
So while Pirates fans for years would have been willing to send away the entire Indianapolis Indians roster and Victory Field if it meant getting a star, a lot needs to be considered when acquiring a marquee talent.
Let’s use Price as an example. Had the Pirates acquired Price in 2015, it might have propelled them to an NL Central title and a World Series championship, but it might not have. It’s likely that one of Glasnow or Meadows would have been a part of that deal. So if that trade didn’t lead to a World Series, Price would have left in the offseason, and Glasnow may have developed even faster. How good would the Pirates look then? Not very.
I’m not trying to say the Bucs don’t deserve criticism for the Archer trade. Maybe the team should have worked harder to work Meadows into a crowded outfield. Maybe the Pirates developmental system can be blamed for Glasnow never blossoming here. In any case, Pirates fans have learned that parting with the future to improve the present doesn’t always pan out.
The likely outcome of this trade shows why the Pirates were so hesitant to part with their prospects, and while it’s perfectly understandable for fans to be upset and even somewhat embarrassed with how bad the team looks for making this trade, remember, Pittsburgh, this is what you wanted.
You wanted the front office to make a splash, and it made a splash. The splash ended up looking like one in a puddle instead of a wave pool. Believe it or not, that happens sometimes. So criticize Huntington and the organization all you want, but remember, that criticism also justifies the Pirates hesitance to part with the future.