Flashback to 2015.
A young Chris Archer totally dominates every time he steps out on the mound. His slider is one of the nastiest in all of baseball. The right-hander’s fastball tops out around 98 miles per hour.
He is the unequivocal ace of a relatively underperforming Tampa Bay Rays team. Archer earns one of the team’s two All Star spots that season. He’ll go on to finish fifth in Cy Young award voting, with 12 wins on the season.
Archer also records 252 strikeouts. That’s good enough for fourth among MLB pitchers in 2015.
Now fast forward to the 2020 season.
In late June, Archer receives horrible news — he’s unlikely to throw a single pitch for the Pirates this season. Recurring neck pains led to an examination and an entire eight months of recovery from Thoracic outlet surgery.
A lackluster 2019, then, is the last year that Archer pitched in the major leagues. Throughout that year he struggled with a consistent pitch mix. His fastball? Now it sat between 93 and 96 miles per hour. The spin rate on his slider was down. In all, Archer finished with a disappointing 3-9 record for Pittsburgh, and limped toward a career-high 5.19 season ERA.
Now 32, Archer is a free agent in an unstable MLB market.
The veteran certainly has much to prove before signing a contract with any team this season. Since that career-high 2015 season, Archer has never finished a season with an ERA below 4.00. He’s also not finished a season with more wins on his record than losses since 2013 — Archer’s rookie season.
His last complete game? Try August 25, 2015. The list goes on.
But the MLB free agent market figures to be substantially different this offseason. Archer, if he can rebuild arm strength for the rigors of a full season, would be a perfect cost-effective solution certain teams in 2021.
Three likely landing spots for Archer next season are outlined below. Remember, it’s likely that the right-hander first gets offered a minor league contract to prove himself. If all goes well, these are three teams Archer would be most likely to debut with next season.
Los Angeles Angels
There are few teams in more dire need of pitching than Los Angeles. And not just pitching, but established, competent and reliable starting pitching. A year ago, the Angels finished tied for fifth-worst in ERA.
Dylan Bundy was the lone bright spot among LA pitching last season, with a career resurgence and ninth-place Cy Young finish. Take him out of the equation, and Angels starters combined for a 6.23 cumulative ERA.
That is a tremendously high number for professional pitchers.
At first glance, Archer certainly doesn’t fit the profile of what LA needs on the mound. High ERA, lots of injury history. This is man who hasn’t notched a major-league victory since June of 2019.
But then again, see what Bundy was able to accomplish in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Archer has a chance to be that same kind of reclamation project under manager Joe Maddon. He could also provide depth behind Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning, roles LA has tried to fill with Trevor Cahill, Julio Teheran and Matt Harvey of late.
Archer would face a behemoth of offenses in the AL West, but at least he’d get a change of scenery. And any landing spots for Archer where hitters haven’t already timed his fastball.
After clinching the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2003, the Fish have plenty to be proud of in South Beach. The team also announced the hiring of general manager Kim Ng two weeks ago. She will become the first female GM in MLB history.
In other words, the Marlins are already taking strides on the field and in their front office that no one expected. Archer could be the next step in Miami’s master World Series plan.
The Marlins own an impressive top of the rotation with young Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez heading the way. But Miami could struggle with the back end of their pitching staff. True fans know as they did as much for several seasons before this year.
Archer slots in as a capable and familiar starter who can eat up innings, when all is going right. Athletic outfielders who can chase down fly balls should also help Archer, who doesn’t record many outs on the ground. Starling Marte and Monte Harrison possess must-watch ball-hawking defense.
The Marlins also drew out the best from everyone on their roster last season. When most of the team’s roster tested positive for COVID-19 in late July, Miami’s front office went on a rampage, claiming four players on waivers, acquiring two via trade, and signing several free agents to fill their void. What’s more surprising is that the flurry of activity actually worked out in the end. Miami held firm and clinched the sixth playoff seed and a first round matchup with the Cubs.
Archer and Miami indeed have more in common than simple adversity. Plenty of MLB critics have already written off a meaningful return by Archer and any prospects of future success. They say Archer’s best days are already behind him.
The Marlins understand exactly what this type of devaluing feels like.
Marlins Park could be the perfect landing spots for Archer to reset, to prove he still has plenty left to offer. Playing on a competitive team with plenty of supporting pieces would be ideal for Archer should the opportunity present itself.
“Low budget” and “high-leverage” are the two buzzwords that always seem to float around Milwaukee’s annual staff of pitchers. If there had to be a third phrase, perhaps it would be “anonymous” or ‘who’s that?’.
Bullpen use has become critical to manager Craig Counsell, who brought Milwaukee within one game of the 2018 World Series. Or look no further than Devin Williams, who had a coming-out party this season in Milwaukee’s bullpen. He won both NL Reliever of the Year and Rookie of the Year this awards season.
But the Brewers have a noticeable disadvantage within their rotation. Three different Milwaukee starters ended 2020 with a season ERA north of 4.00. That’s compared to three relievers this season that qualified with a ERA below 3.00. Milwaukee’s starters have struggled.
Signing Archer to a minor-league deal with potential for a callup is an interesting proposition for GM David Stearns. He seems to be searching for good table setters ahead of Milwaukee’s bullpen; Archer wants a chance to showcase his best repertoire.
Archer might do best in short five-inning stints for Milwaukee. That still would still give him time to rebuild arm strength after a lost season but not push him too deep into games without a ready relief corps.
If any landing spots could effectively swing Archer in such a specific pitching role, it would be the Brewers. The lighter hitting offenses of the National League Central might look appealing to the right-hander as well. It could even give him a chance to return to the Cy Young conversation.
Whatever Archer does in 2021, fans and baseball analysts will intently watch his return. But for right now, all Archer wants is a contract.
That will be a step in the right direction.
Featured Image Courtesy of Todd Kirkland & Getty Images.
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