Chris Archer could be the missing link for the Milwaukee Brewers
If, by any chance, you have spent the last few days hiking through a picturesque mountain range somewhere with no WiFi access, then you may have missed that Giancarlo Stanton plays for the New York Yankees now. You may have also missed that Shohei Ohtani chose to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and also has a UCL sprain but that’s not particularly relevant to this story.
What is relevant, is that the Yankees (who were good last year) are now really good and are trying to get better. So are the Boston Red Sox. Also relevant is that all other teams in the American League East are significantly less good and are therefore unlikely to have any realistic shot at a playoff birth for the next few years. That means that for teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, now might be a good time to sell off some shorter term assets and turn them into longer term ones (Yes Baltimore, it’s time). Luckily for Tampa Bay, the team has a lot of players on affordable contracts, who teams would give up a lot of value for in order to acquire their services. Chris Archer is one of those players, he’s really good, he’s cheap. We’ll talk about that later though.
On the other side of this story, the Milwaukee Brewers are on their way to getting good while most of the rest of the National League Central are trending in the other direction. The Brewers find themselves coming out on the other side of what appears to be a rather successful rebuild and the roster is chock full of young, interesting, talented yet unproven players. Add a couple of impact pieces and it’s not hard to see the Brewers as a contender for the foreseeable future. There is one thing they need though and that’s pitching.
Chris Archer is a pitcher and he’s good – funny how these things work right?
WHO IS CHRIS ARCHER?
So let’s take a second to talk about just how good Chris Archer is. To do this, let’s take a look at some 3 year averages for relevant statistics:
That’s pretty good. Archer has managed to get hitters to swing and miss at an above average rate, posted strong strike out and walk rates, while doing a decent job at preventing runs in a hitter friendly park in the AL East. For context, let’s see how that ranks among qualified starters over that same time period.
Top 1/3, top 10, top 10, top 1/3, top 10, top 20. That’s Good. Meanwhile Archer is just 29 years old and is on one of the most team friendly contracts in the game. If you’re a visual person, then perhaps this chart might give you a better feel for how good Archer is:
That Orange dot towards the top-right, that’s Archer. At the extremes you have future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw in the very top right corner, in the bottom left you have Mike Pelfrey. Archer finds himself comfortably in the top 10 in this chart so I think we now have enough evidence to say he’s good.
But did I mention that Archer is also really cheap? Any team in possession of Archer’s services would find themselves controlling Archer through the end of the 2021 season. Allow me to show you what those years look like.
2018: $6.25M, 2019: $7.5M, 2020: $9M club option, 2021: $11M club option
For reference, the Colorado Rockies just signed Jake McGee, a talented yet oft injured left handed reliever at $9M a year for three years – Archer is owed just an extra $6M total and has an extra year of control. As we just established , Chris Archer is one of the best young starting pitchers in the game, Jake McGee is not. So Archer has a tonne of trade value and we can actually work out just how much that is, so let’s do that.
Steamer currently projects Archer as a 4.4 WAR pitcher next season which feels about right. He’s not due for any serious decline over the course of his contract so I don’t particularly feel the need to add an aging penalty. So for 4 seasons an acquiring team can expect something like 17.6 WAR barring some kind of serious injury. We also know that a ‘win’ is priced at something like $8M so if we just simply multiply that out we get Archer expected to provide $140M in value over the next 4 seasons. Subtract the amount owed to Archer over those seasons and Archer has something like $106M in Surplus Value.
So Archer is a good pitcher with over $100M in surplus value on a team that may look to rebuild. Let’s leave that there and look at this from the Brewers point of view.
For the Brewers…
As we said earlier, the Brewers are a young talented team that is perhaps just a few impact pieces away from contending in 2018. They’re coming off an 86 win season in a year where they were not expected to contend. They currently have a potential average or better player penciled in at every position on the diamond for the foreseeable future with more talent still to come off the farm. They have a solid closer in Corey Knebel, Josh Hader looks like a multiple inning weapon in the pen (if they don’t give him another chance to start) and Jacob Barnes emerged as a solid set up man. But the rotation looks….. thin.
Jimmy Nelson enjoyed a breakout season in 2017 and looked like one of the best starters in the NL but will miss a decent amount of the 2018 season after tearing the labrum in his shoulder as a base runner in September. Torn labrums are ALWAYS bad for pitchers so the Brewers will have to face the possibility of losing their new-found ace for a significant amount of time. Behind that Chase Anderson put up a 3 win season as he continues to show he is a reliable rotation piece but after that the picture gets more shaky with Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter and Taylor Jungmann projected to fill out the rest of the rotation in 2018. That’s really not enough for a team with hopes of contending in the near future – I mean let’s be honest, this is the first time you’ve heard of most of those pitchers.
So this is what we have. Chris Archer is good but his team, the Rays, may not be. The Brewers are good but need pitching and this is where it is a natural fit. The Brewers window for contention is probably something like the next 5 years, then they will probably start to lose these young players to free agency. Chris Archer could potentially be around for 4 years as an elite, while reasonably young and affordable starter. Archer’s contract is so friendly that even after acquiring Archer, the Brewers would still have room to add impact players to the payroll without feeling too much financial strain. The Brewers will need to add some more pieces, especially to the rotation, but adding a healthy Chris Archer to the Brewers rotation suddenly makes them a team to watch in the NL.
So then, what would be the cost of acquisition? We know that Archer has something like $100M in surplus value but the question is, what does that look like in terms of prospect value. Thanks to the people at The Point of Pittsburgh, we can arrive at a pretty good estimation and for Archer it looks something like a top 25 hitting prospect, a top 50 hitting prospect and a back end of the top 100 pitcher. That’s a lot, it would probably gut most team’s farm systems but while Milwaukee could probably stomach that they have another option available to them.
The Brewers currently have 6 outfielders competing for 3 spots, so they could reasonably move someone from their surplus of outfielders. One of those outfielders is Keon Broxton who, after a breakout 2016 season, struggled to the tune of 0.7 WAR in 2017. Broxton is a talented center fielder who, despite some problems with strikeouts just posted a 20/20 campaign as a 27 year old with 4 remaining years of team control. If we average out Broxton’s 2016 and 2017 campaigns then he looks like a 1.4 win ($30M) player. That goes a fair way towards that $100M target. So with $70M to play with the Brewers would probably have to include a top 50 hitter and a pitcher in the 75-100 range. The Brewers have both of those:
RHP Chris Archer
CF Keon Broxton
OF Corey Ray
RHP Corbin Burns
Now there might have to be a few smaller pieces thrown around here and there to make both sides happy but this framework would make some deal of sense for both sides should the Rays seek to rebuild. They get a controllable Center Fielder with upside, one that could help bridge a rebuild or perhaps be further traded. They also get one of the top prospects from the 2016 draft (even if his status has soured some) and a 22 year old starter who just posted a 25% strikeout rate and 2.10 ERA in AA.
Meanwhile for Milwaukee, trading Broxton creates space for top prospect Lewis Brinson to play everyday in 2018, while they still have some depth in guys like Brett Phillips for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile they add 4 years of one of the cheapest, most talented starters in baseball – one that makes them legitimate contenders in 2018 and beyond.
Chris Archer is a great fit in Milwaukee, let’s make it happen.
The Author would also like to credit Eno Sarris at Fangraphs for the framework of this post.
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