Baseball

I talked earlier about the need for the White Sox to fortify the front end of their rotation earlier by adding Zack Wheeler via free agency. What if the Sox could accomplish the same thing without Rick Hahn having to spend nearly as much of Jerry Reinsdorf’s precious precious gold? I’m gonna propose something pretty wacky and radical, but it fits the Sox modus operandi perfectly, plus it gives Don Cooper his favorite thing in the world: a reclamation project.

Time to turn Chris Archer’s career around.

I know we here at FFUD talk a lot about pilfering from the Pirates stash of available players. Wes already did it with Starling Marte, I’m gonna propose taking Archer, and Adam has a plan to free Josh Bell from PNC Park that you’ll hear about tomorrow. The reason we’ve decided to raid the Pirates is twofold: They’re gonna rebuild again, and they have a history of being dumb. If Hahn can take advantage of both, he absolutely should.

Why Him?: Based solely on his stats from last season, one would think there really isn’t a good reason the Sox should be doing this. By any metric available, Archer had a terrible season, going 3-9 with a 5.19 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP and a ginormous 4.19 BB/9. His FIP was a career-high 5.02 which suggests he earned every bit of that ERA. Taking that into account the Pirates would not be dealing from a position of strength in trade talks, but why would the Sox want him?

This is purely a buy-low scenario for Hahn and the Sox. Archer has been an excellent pitcher in the past, and has pretty nasty strikeout stuff when his accuracy doesn’t abandon him completely. He’s only two years removed from a 10-win, 200+ inning effort with the Rays on a pretty terrible team. He also struck out 249 batters that year, the third season in a row of him having 230+ strikeouts. He also had a tolerable 4.03 ERA, which his 3.40 FIP suggests was aided and abetted by bad D behind him and playing in what essentially is the tip of a concrete condom.

His velocity still sits at almost 95 MPH on his four seam fastball, so there hasn’t been any losses there. The Pirates tried to get him to use a two-seamer last season to predictably terrible results. Once he ditched it and went back to the four-seam, his results in August were much better, as he had a 3.00 ERA in four starts that month. He also struck out 27 batters in those 18 innings before he was lifted with shoulder issues in the 4th start.

This is also the perfect time for the Sox to make a play for him, as his contract jumps up to $9 million from the $6.25 that it was two seasons ago. For a team that (based on what they’ve said publicly) is looking to shed payroll and enter a full rebuild mode $9 million off the books for minor league talent would most likely be fairly attractive. In addition to that, Archer has a team option for $11 million next season with a $250K team buyout, so the Sox wouldn’t be saddled with a shitty contract if Cooper isn’t able to fix him.

Why Not Him?: Archer was shut down at the end of August with shoulder inflammation, which is never good for a pitcher. In addition, it was never discovered what actually caused the inflammation so there is the possibility that there is something structurally wrong with his shoulder that the doctors have not been able to find so far. Also, he did just get his skull caved in for the first four months of the season last year, so there’s a lot of inherent risk in making this move.

How Much Is This Free Resort Weekend?: Here’s where it gets fun, because it’s probably not going to take a ton to pry Archer away from the Pirates. His career worst year pretty much seals that. In addition, the fact that the new GM has a chance to flip a player that the guy who had the job before him gave way too much away for (Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow? Holy shit, that really WAS a dumb fucking move. No wonder the guy got fired). Everybody likes making the guy who had your job before you look like a moron, so he can trade Archer to the Sox for some middling prospects as a salary dump. Perhaps Blake Rutherford and Luis Gonzalez would be enough to wet the whistle of the new Bucs GM, whoever it ends up being.

This is a pretty out-there idea but it fits the way the Sox like to operate. If the dice roll comes up eleven, the Sox could end up with the kind of guy who is a solid #3 starter for them at a very controllable price (which Jerry loves). If they make the deal and Archer is still getting shelled they can cut bait and only be out of $250K next season, which I’m sure they’d just trade to the Rangers with some international bonus pool money anyways. Let’s get weird, people!

Baseball

There are few, if any, organizations that are a prime example of how you can fuck up a great team and feel no pressure like the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s been five seasons since they won 98 games and got Arrieta’d, and not a lot has gone right since. The past couple years have been particularly astounding, and sending Pirates fans on their way in droves. But what does it matter when Bob Nutting can still pocket revenue sharing and BAM tech money and make a huge profit?

The Pirates started last season by moving along team legend Andrew McCutchen because he was a year from free agency, and if that wasn’t bad enough (it was), they also shipped off ace Gerrit Cole because he was two years from the market. We could study how the Bucs mishandled Cole forever, trying to shoehorn him into their cutter-ground ball ways and then watching the Astros unleash a monster by letting him simply be him and chuck 97 MPH all the time.

The Pirates, in the midst of a surprise above .500 season, tried to make up for that by shipping out perennial disappointment Austin Meadows and seemingly perennially wayward Tyler Glasnow for Chris Archer. Let’s be fair to Archer, he was never as good as Cole and to expect him to be was silly. And it’s not Archer’s fault that Meadows has gone on to be a plus-plus outfielder in Tampa while Glasnow was one of the best starters in the AL before getting hurt. That’s on the Pirates. But Archer is going to be the target.

The warning signs were there on Archer before, of course. Even in his good days, 2014-2018, Archer was a two-pitch pitcher. He threw only a fastball and slider, though both being weapons were more than enough for then. But the thought was as soon as either slipped, he was going to have problems. And so it has proven.

Archer’s fastball has lost a full MPH on it this season, though you wouldn’t think averaging 94 MPH instead of 95 would be a major issue. But it has been. He’s seen a 100-point rise in slugging on his fastball, to .562 this year.

Velocity hasn’t been the problem for Archer’s slider, and he still gets over 40% whiffs on the swings on it which is very good. But it has lost some of its tilt, and has more of a sweeping action these days than it did. Which means it’s been a little easier to get in the air, and Archer has seen that increase too. And these days, if you’re giving up more fly balls, you’re asking for trouble. You’re asking for death.

Archer’s home runs per nine innings have nearly doubled this season, though it’s hardly his fault that pitchers are using Titleists out there this season. Archer’s fly ball rate is the highest of his career, which normally wouldn’t be a big problem in PNC Park, but his home run per fly ball is miles above anything that’s been seen before.

Archer has tried to make up for it by introducing a change-up this season. It’s had mixed results. He does get a lot of grounders off it, which is key. He’s getting 28% whiffs-per-swing, which is definitely something to build on. He’s still giving up too much slugging on it (.500), but as this is the first year he’s tried it it’s at least a start.

Of course, the main concern for Nutting’s Pirates is affordability, and Archer is still that. He’s got a team-option of $9M next year and $11M the following, which is nothing for even a 5th starter. And with Cole hitting the open market after this season, he’ll probably pull in three times that or more. For the Bucs, that’s what matters. Shame, that.