Pittsburgh Pirates: Chris Archer Trade Four Years Later
The Pittsburgh Pirates made one of the most infamous trades in recent Major League Baseball history a little over 4 years ago. With prospect Shane Baz making his debut Monday, let’s take a look back at the trade.
On the July 2018 trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates made what is one of the most notorious trades in recent MLB history. They sent then young and talented players Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and their 2017 first-round draft pick Shane Baz, over to the Tampa Bay Rays for former American league All-Star Chris Archer.
The trade did not work out as planned for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Archer struggled as a Pirate with both Meadows and Glasnow showing a ton of promise in their first seasons as Tampa Bay Rays. Now, the prospect the Pittsburgh Pirates sent over to Tmapa Bay, Shane Baz, will make his MLB debut on Monday. This trade took place what feels like forever ago, so how’s it look in retrospect.
The Pirates made the trade after an 11-game winning streak in mid-to-late July. Ironically, this winning streak would have more consequences for the long-term future than it did rewards. They were quite active at the deadline, starting the day off by trading for then-Texas Rangers’ closer Keone Kela, another trade that looks quite lopsided today. Then, they made the Archer deal.
Glasnow was the player with the most MLB experience going back at the time. He had previously appeared in the three seasons prior and was considered one of the best prospects in MLB. Glasnow struggled with the Pirates, posting a 5.79 ERA, 4.90 FIP, and 1.705 WHIP in 141.1 innings. Meadows was another premier prospect who got off to a solid start in a Pirates uniform back in 2018. His first 165 plate appearances saw him hit .292/.327/.468 with a 110 wRC+, and 5 home runs. The last piece was a player to be named later, who would eventually be Shane Baz. Baz was the 12th overall selection in the previous year’s draft. While he showed some quite powerful stuff in high school and the early part of his pro career, his command was inconsistent at best.
Archer was having a so-so season at the time of the trade. While his 4.31 ERA wasn’t good, he did have a decent 3.62 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, and 3.77 SIERA, there was some hope he could turn it around. Plus in the 5 seasons prior, Archer had a 3.60 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 1.214 WHIP while averaging over 200 innings per 162 games. The Pirates were hoping to get the mid-3 ERA, 200 innings a year starting pitcher he had been the multiple seasons prior. If he could do that, while having affordable control through 2021, it made sense as to why the Rays would have such a large asking price.
Well, the trade didn’t work out as the Pirates had hoped. In 2019, Meadows posted a .291/.364/.558 line while slamming 33 home runs in 591 plate appearances. Overall, he had a .380 wOBA, and 143 wRC+. Among qualified batters, Meadows ranked 10th in wRC+, though since then, he hasn’t reached the same level. He struggled to an 87 wRC+ in 2020 and has had a solid campaign in 2021. So far this year, he’s posted a .230/.312/.451 line while having 25 home runs in 555 trips to the plate, overall having a .323 wOBA, and 109 wRC+. He’s split his time between left field and designated hitter since arriving to the Rays.
Glasnow also looked quite well in 2019. He had a 1.78 ERA, 2.26 FIP, and .89 WHIP, but was limited to just 60.2 innings, and 12 starts. Glasnow’s biggest issues were the home run and walk when he left Pittsburgh, but saw his walk rate get nearly cut in half to 6.1%, his HR/9 reach .59, and strikeout rate rocket all the way to 33%. After a solid 2020 campaign where he had a 4.08 ERA, 3.66 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP, Glasnow looked like one of MLB’s best starting pitchers, getting his season started with a 2.66 ERA, 2.77 FIP, and .93 WHIP through his first 88 innings. He was striking out batters at an insane 36.2% rate while keeping walks at a 7.9% mark. Though he was forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery in early August. Glasnow had blamed MLB’s decision to enforce their foreign substance policy in mid-June, which he claimed led to his injury and subsequent surgery. Glasnow will miss all of the 2022 season and return in 2022 during his age-29 season.
Baz has since developed into one of baseball’s best starting pitching prospects. Through 78.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A, the hard-throwing right-hander has a 2.06 ERA, 2.54 FIP, and .801 WHIP. He’s striking out batters at a rate nearing 40% at 37.9% while keeping walks to a 4.4% mark. Home runs have bitten him a few times, but a 1.03 HR/9 is more than usable. Though his command can still get a bit inconsistent, a sub-5% walk rate is an improvement no matter how you spin it.
Archer on the other hand had a terrible 2019 season. He only pitched 119.2 innings, missing some of the year due to injury. He posted a 5.19 ERA, 5.01 FIP, and 1.412 WHIP throughout the season. While he was still striking out batters at a healthy 27.3% rate, his walk rate had risen above 10% (10.5%). But home runs were his biggest struggle. He surrendered 25 for an HR/9 of 1.88. Archer would miss the entirety of the shortened 2020 season because of thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and would ironically return to the Rays for 2021. But he’s still struggled with injuries and has pitched just 19.1 innings, allowing 10 earned runs on 3 home runs.
Now the trade was bad. I’m not going to argue the wrong argument. But it’s not like they traded Babe Ruth for just cash as some fans make it out to be. Glasnow, while extremely effective, has only pitched 403 innings since making his debut back in July 2016. The most starts he’s made in a season is 14, and the most innings he’s pitched is 111.2. This is the second year in the last 3 where he has had issues with durability and now with Tommy John surgery and admitting to using sticky substances on the mound, his effectiveness will be in question in 2023 at age-29.
While Meadows’ 2019 season was phenomenal, he’s failed to follow that up. Even when he has been used in the field with the Rays, he hasn’t been all that good with the glove, posting -7 DRS, a -.6 UZR/150, and -1.1 range runs above average since 2019. This year, his overall offensive contributions could be mistaken for Ben Gamel. Going into Saturday, Gamel this year has a .761 OPS, .332 wOBA, and 108 wRC+ with the Bucs while Meadows has a .762 OPS, .323 wOBA, and 109 wRC+.
Baz is, in my opinion, the best player in this entire deal. I wish him the best of luck in his career. He’ll make his debut on Monday. Though prospects are far from a sure thing, he’s highly talented.
In the end, I’m not saying that the Archer trade is redeemable in any way. I’d much rather have an outfield of Bryan Reynolds, Meadows, and Gamel, Tyler Glasnow in the organization even if he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Shane Baz playing alongside the likes of Roansy Contreras, Quinn Priester, Carmen Mldozinski, and many other noteworthy pitching prospects in the minor leagues. But in retrospect, is it the worst trade ever made? Far from it.
The Long Term Effects
Now this trade had very long-term, rippling effects to the Pittsburgh Pirates. We’ll start with the bad. This trade essentially led to them having to rebuild. Without two controllable and productive MLB players and a top prospect of Baz’s caliber still developing in the minor leagues, the Pirates were left pretty barren. Now, what about the good? Well, it pretty much led to the complete teardown and rebuild of the front office, player development, and coaching staff.
The Pirates fired both longtime manager Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage at the very end of the 2019 season. Many blamed Searage for Glasnow’s struggles with the Pirates and subsequent breakout with the Rays, as well as Gerrit Cole’s and Charlie Morton’s breakout with the Houston Astros. This was because of his pitch-to-contact philosophy that didn’t work with young power pitchers like Cole or Glasnow. Hurdle on the other hand had seemingly lost control of his clubhouse and players. Aside from a clubhouse brawl including he-who-shall-not-be-named, we would later learn the clubhouse culture was not in the best of shape overall at the end of 2019.
While many people blame owner Bob Nutting for most of the Pirates’ problems, I will give him credit for finally pulling the trigger on Neal Huntington. The final nail in the coffin for Huntington may have been the Archer trade. After Huntington’s fire, the Pirates brought in Ben Cherington, who’s gotten much praise throughout the industry for giving the Pirates a very bright future.
Aside from bringing in the multitude of top prospects, we cover extensively here quite frequently, Cherington also brought in a new head of player development in John Baker, as well as giving the player development and scouting side of the organization a much-needed facelift. While Derek Shelton remains to be seen as the long-term manager, pitching coach Oscar Marin has seemingly done well with many of the pitchers the Pirates have had.
The Chris Archer trade probably has the largest ripple effect of any trade in recent history. In retrospect, the trade didn’t work out. The Pirates got a poor pitcher for two players who have become productive MLB players, as well as a promising-looking prospect. But, it did lead to the complete facelift the Pirates as an organization desperatly needed.
Not every trade is going to work out. General managers are going to make some bad decisions, ones that cost them their jobs. But there’s no point in looking back at the past as much as some fans do. The trade happened and so while it wasn’t good (far from it), it did lead to some good things for the Pirates and that’s all you can really look forward to now.
Comparing the organization based on one trade that happened a little over 4 years ago, when many of the front office personnel that made the swap are now gone, is pretty much pointless. They have a promising future, ironically, partly because of the Archer trade. The Pirates got a new front office, one who’s given the organization a clear direction with a whole lot to look forward to, and I’m more than ready for that future.