When we heard this morning about the Chris Archer extension, everyone’s first reaction had to be that it was another one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ team-friendly deals. Immediately we realize, however, that there is something different about Archer’s extension. Archer’s $25.5 million guarantee over six years is the third-largest in Rays history, trailing only Scott Kazmir entering 2008 and Evan Longoria entering 2013. His deal is certainly reasonable based on comparable players–a pitcher in a similar position in terms of talent and service time, Julio Teheran, got six years and $32.4 million. But instead of getting a deal that benefits them heavily, the Rays settled for market value for an extension. If Archer does not work out, the Rays will find themselves on the hook for far more money than they can handle going down the wayside. Why were the Rays willing to change their philosophy and extend Archer?
The first thing we have to talk about with Archer is his talent level. It is not too often that you get the opportunity to buy out two free agent years of a 25 year old with a 97 MPH fastball, a devastating slider, and a changeup that gets better each season. He is exactly the type of player the Rays want to extend, and at the end of the day, what’s so bad about market value for an extension? The Rays are still going to be paying Archer a solid margin less than he would make in arbitration in everything but the worst-case scenario. The Rays are taking on some risk, but even if the potential benefit is not as overwhelming as it was with Matt Moore‘s extension or Evan Longoria’s first deal, it is still a strong value. Most importantly, Archer was never going to agree to the type of contract that Moore or Longoria agreed to. If he was, an extension would have been done last season. The Rays had one chance to extend Archer, and while it was not the type of deal they dream about, they took it.
The Rays are known for their team-friendly extensions, but lately they have done several out-of-character deals. On the free agent market, they signed James Loney for three years and $21 million and Grant Balfour for two years and $12 million. They also extended two veterans this offseason, David DeJesus for two years and $10.5 million and Ryan Hanigan for three years and $10.75 million. All four of those deals are good values, but none of those are as team-friendly as we are used to seeing from the Rays. The Rays were willing to go beyond their usual comfort zone because they saw the chance to get four good players below what they are truly worth, even if the differences were not as dramatic as it had been previously. The Chris Archer extension is a hybrid of the Rays’ usual type of extensions and the deals they have done this season. The purpose of the deal is the same as every young player they have extended before: to gain additional years of control. To do so, however, they were willing to take on additional risk in exchange for getting a deal done, even it was a moderate bargain more than an eye-popping one.
If the Rays get the chance, look for them to sign more extensions like Matt Moore and Evan Longoria. Those deals are some of the best in baseball, and those are always going to be their ideal. But the Rays realize that they do not live in a perfect world and have to accept the reality of each situation. With this Chris Archer extension, they find themselves shelling out more money than normal but still ending up with a deal that accomplishes what they were hoping for. The Rays are not actually taking a major risk–they are just ceasing to be as conservative in their contracts as they were before.