Say you know a big St. Louis Cardinals fan who spent the last week completely out of the loop of Cardinals news. He or she knows the sport fairly well but hasn’t been around the latest trade deadline news. Obviously, the explaining about Tommy Pham being traded is going to be a big headline, but once it gets past that, this friend of yours is probably going to ask for a more general overview.
Friend: “So, I know Machado got traded–who else? Did the other big names get moved?”
You: “Well, there were some rumors floating around that Bryce Harper might get traded, but ultimately the Washington Nationals held on to him. Josh Donaldson’s still hurt so he was a no. I mean, Brian Dozier got traded? Not really anybody of Machado’s caliber off this ‘2018-2019 free agents’ list I’m consulting.”
Friend: “Well, Pham got traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, so I guess they’re really going for it. I mean, I know they were far out, but they had good underlying numbers, plus Pham has control years left…I take it they held on to Chris Archer then?”
You: “Nope! Sorry, thought you were specifically asking about rentals…Chris Archer *did* get traded! Not only did he get traded, but he’s pitching tonight at PNC Park!”
Friend: “Oh man, really? The Cardinals pulled the trigger on Chris Archer? Not sure if they have enough for this year, but even so, going down the stretch with a one-two of Archer and Carlos Martinez–beautiful.”
You: “Uh, gotta go.”
Chris Archer was long-rumored as a potential target for the Cardinals. The Rays starting pitcher, who is signed to a very club-friendly extension, was considered a hot commodity and a player who could pitch as a #1 or #2 starter for most teams in baseball. But on Tuesday, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates who acquired Archer, via trade for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and a player to be named later (said player is reported to be a relatively major player by PTBNL standards, but honestly I’m confused and scared as to why a player would be determined but not announced?).
Just as there was confusion about the Tampa Bay Rays acquiring Tommy Pham, a buy move (he’s a 30 year-old veteran who was traded for three prospects), while trading Chris Archer (easily the biggest name in what was a three-for-one trade), the Pittsburgh Pirates have followed an interesting path over the last year or so. Last offseason, they traded beloved franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen and their best starting pitcher, Gerrit Cole. And now, with a marginal chance at the postseason but presumably an eye on the future, they have acquired Chris Archer.
As soon as the move was made, it was instantly decried by scores of Cardinals fans as reflective of John Mozeliak’s ultra-conservatism. But it’s also a lot easier to call for a trade when the players being traded aren’t your players. To me, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows are just a couple guys on a different baseball team whose names I recognized on the Pirates but whose existence I rarely considered otherwise.
But Tyler Glasnow, a few years ago, was an acclaimed prospect–in 2016, he ranked eighth in baseball. He hasn’t materialized as planned, notably exhibiting control issues throughout his MLB career, but he has been better in relief this season and, at 24, certainly still has time to turn a corner and become the top starter most expected him to become. And Austin Meadows, 23, has alternated between MLB and AAA this season, but with the Pirates MLB team, in 165 plate appearances, was an above-average hitter and ranked #37 on FanGraphs top prospects list in June.
As abstractions, losing out on Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows seems like very little because Cardinals fans who do not actively follow Pittsburgh Pirates prospects are going to be inclined to more heavily weigh current performance. But one is a former super-prospect pitcher whose stock has fallen a bit over the last couple years, and another is a solid middle-of-the-top-100 outfielder who has shown promising offense at the MLB level. These were the Pirates equivalents to Alex Reyes and Tyler O’Neill.
And this was for Chris Archer, who turns 30 next month and in the midst of his third consecutive season with an ERA in the 4s. While I do think this is a bit of an oversimplication, as his peripherals have been better, Archer has found opposing batters hitting the ball pretty hard recently. Archer’s current SIERA, a more nuanced equivalent to FIP which considers contact quality, is 3.75. Yes, it’s better than his ERA, but it’s more reflective of a decent #3 or #4 starter than of the quasi-ace that Chris Archer’s reputation suggests. There is a very real possibility that this trade works out like the Jose Quintana trade worked out for the Cubs.
None of this is to say the Pirates made a mistake, mind you. Would I trade Alex Reyes and Tyler O’Neill for Chris Archer (for the sake of this, let’s say Tommy Pham hasn’t been traded yet)? I…think I might. But I’m absolutely thinking hard about it, and that’s not even weighing the player to be named later part of the equation.
I like Chris Archer–he seems like a good and fun player, despite the fact that I think he looks like the scariest character on The Wire–but hopefully the adjustment to a new league takes at least one start. Here are the pitching matchups for this weekend’s series between the Cardinals and the Pirates. All times Central.
Friday (6:05): John Gant (3-4, 3.49 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (3-5, 4.31 ERA)
Saturday (6:05): Austin Gomber (1-0, 3.22 ERA) vs. Ivan Nova (6-6, 4.33 ERA)
Sunday (12:35): Jack Flaherty (4-6, 3.49 ERA) vs. Trevor Williams (9-7, 3.89 ERA)