Tim Benz: How Pirates might deal with Chris Archer conundrum
When the topics of the Pirates roster and finances intersect, we can often make the mistake of addressing the decision from the view of what should be done.
Instead, it’s far more practical to simply address it from the standpoint of what they will likely do.
In other words, don’t look at it from the angle of what you would do if you had millions to spend. Look at it from the angle of how Bob Nutting will choose to spend his millions.
Or, better said, how he won’t.
That’s how we should look at the debate over what to do with Chris Archer’s $8.25 million club option.
If you or I had enough money to own a major league team, we’d probably spend the $1.75 million to buy him out and use the difference toward acquiring a better pitcher in the offseason.
After all, Archer has been a terrible disappointment since coming to Pittsburgh from Tampa Bay last year. The right-hander’s 5.19 ERA is a career high. His 1.41 WHIP is a career high, too. If he doesn’t come back this year from a recent shoulder injury, his 23 starts and 119 2/3 innings will be his lowest since his rookie season in 2013. And his walk rate is up about 3%.
But the way the Pirates view things through their normally tight-fisted standards, they might see Archer as a bargain despite those awful numbers.
How so? Because as bad as Archer has been, he still may be the team’s opening day starter next year.
Yeah. You read that right.
Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams haven’t been much better than Archer in 2019. Worse in some categories, come to think of it.
If Mitch Keller is ready to be a big-leaguer, he hasn’t proven it yet. Chad Kuhl is an unknown coming back from Tommy John surgery — if he even remains a starter. And despite Steven Brault’s solid second-half performance, he appears to be a back-of-the-rotation talent, at best, in the eyes of the franchise.
Plus, what else are you going to get for $8.25 million? According to Spotrac.com, 47 starting pitchers made more than that this season.
Good luck finding an ace for that kind of salary.
So what will the Pirates do? Knowing the way they often operate, they could ditch Archer and use the money to get two guys at about $4 million each. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Hey, they came out of spring training with Jordan Lyles in the rotation after signing him to a $2.05 million flyer.
To underscore the point, Lyles was the replacement in the rotation for Ivan Nova and his $9.1 million salary when he was shipped to the Chicago White Sox.
So the math is still in the same ballpark.
The Pirates are in an interesting position here. They can probably use fan apathy and the hopeless outlook surrounding the rotation to their advantage.
Normally, replicating Archer’s situation with what they did to Nova would be vilified by fans as yet another cheap cost-cutting move. But the ticket-buyers know how bad Archer has been, so it’s not like they’d revolt.
Meanwhile, if general manager Neal Huntington decides to keep Archer, that decision might be rebuffed by fans who are upset the Pirates are sticking with a convenient status quo.
In that instance, however, Huntington can counter with an answer of, “Hey, at least we are keeping his salary on the books and are remaining committed to the trade to get him last year.”
See. All you pessimists out there look at the Archer conundrum as a no-win situation. Yet, a natural-born, wide-eyed Pirates optimist like me just told you how they can’t lose.
In reality, what I just told you is merely how the organization can spin it either way. Hence, the narrative is — in the preferred Pirates vernacular of our times — “under club control.”
I think the Pirates will keep Archer. He’s the only expensive pitcher in the rotation. Why get two guys who are overpaid in the $4 to $5 million range, when you can just overpay one guy in the $8 to $9 million range?
Honestly, that type of thinking is probably why you’ll see the manager and GM back as well.