After making four major league starts in 2012, Chris Archer came into his own in the big leagues in 2013. After starting the season at Triple A, he finished the season with a 9-7 record, a 3.22 ERA, and a 101-38 strikeout to walk ratio in 128.2 innings pitched. Not only did he finish 3rd in the American League Rookie of the Year voting but he is now firmly entrenched in the Rays’ rotation. The 25-year old pitcher will now enter 2014 as the Rays’ fourth starter and a pitcher they would like to have in their rotation for years to come. Would now be the time to consider signing him to an extension?
Archer’s body of work in the majors so far has been promising. His line in 2013 included an xFIP of 3.91, a K/9 rate of 7.07 and a BB/9 rate of 2.66. He did this with a fastball velocity that averaged just below 95 MPH according to Fangraphs. This was one of the fastest average fastballs among starting pitchers in 2013 and is probably a sign that his strikeout rate should increase over the years if he can keep his velocity the same. He may be due for some regression in his walk rate because control was an issue for him in the past, but he should be able to keep hitters off balance with his hard fastball and sharp-breaking slider. Archer even showed promise with his changeup in 2013, and if he can continue gaining trust in it, he will have another weapon in his arsenal. Hitters will likely make an adjustment against Archer in the future, especially if his changeup does not come along, but he has excellent stuff and cannot be overlooked. Chris Archer is a talented pitcher, and the only concerns with him are the ones presence with any touted young arm with one big league season under his belt.
Generally pitchers who throw at such a high velocity consistently tend to be injury prone, which is a legitimate concern when talking about an extension for such a pitcher. However, Archer’s limited injury history and clean delivery should negate some of that concern. Archer has never had any type of surgery and has missed a grand total of one start from an arm injury since 2008. Archer repeats his mechanics well thanks to excellent athleticism–Joe Maddon actually used him as a pinch-runner at one point in 2012, and he even attempted a stolen base. Every pitcher always has a chance to get injured, and Archer did miss a couple starts from a sprained ankle and forearm tightness in 2013. However, as pitchers and especially hard-throwing pitchers go, Archer looks to be ahead of the injury curve moving forward.
Despite only having limited major league experience and one solid season under his belt, now might be the best time to sign Chris Archer to an extension. While there are always risks to signing a young pitcher, the rewards could be tremendous as the Rays could save a lot of money in the long run. Archer has the stuff to justify an extension and the ability to be a stalwart in the rotation for years to come. What would an extension for him look like?
Chris Archer won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season, and the Rays would hope to lock him up through his arbitration seasons and at least one free agent year. That means that we are talking about a five or six year deal with options at the end. Two pitchers that have recently signed extensions that could serve as a baseline could be Julio Teheran and Madison Bumgarner. Teheran received a six-year deal for $32.4 million this offseason while Bumgarner received a five-year deal for $35 million prior to 2012. Worth nothing, though, is that Teheran and Bumgarner both had distinct advantages over Archer. Unlike Archer, Teheran spent the entire season in the big leagues and threw 57 more innings with better strikeout and walk rates. Bumgarner, meanwhile, already had 325.2 innings of strong big league performance under his belt, even topping 200 innings in 2011. Both pitchers were more established and had better track records than Archer at the time of their extensions which is why Archer shouldn’t expect to get as much as either of these pitchers. But at the end of the day, Archer could end up with a similar deal to Teheran, whose ERA was just .02 better than Archer and whose higher homer rate helps cancel out some of his advantages in strikeout and walks. A possible deal could look like this: six years and $27 million with two options at the end. (The first year would be his pre-arbitration salary for 2014.) This deal would give the Rays a quality starter for the next six to eight seasons at an affordable price and give Archer financial security moving forward.
One other difference between Chris Archer and the other two pitchers is his age. Archer turned 25 in September–Teheran signed his extension at 23 while Bumgarner was just 22. Will that make Archer more or less willing to sign a long-term deal? If all of his options were exercised in our hypothetical contract, Archer would not go to free agency until age 32. We cannot be sure if he would be satisfied with that situation. The Rays have shown willingness in the past to sign young players to a team-friendly deals, but the player has to agree to terms as well. Will Chris Archer join James Shields, Matt Moore, and others as the next Rays pitcher to sign on the dotted line for an extension?