St. Louis Cardinals: Trading for Chris Archer, it’s in the Cards

Chris Archer’s name keeps getting thrown around in accord with the St. Louis Cardinals. Does a trade for the Tampa Bay ace make sense for both sides?

The St. Louis Cardinals need pitching. Chris Archer can pitch.

You know it, I know it, your mom probably even knows it. The question isn’t whether or not the St. Louis Cardinals know about their need for pitching, it’s who they’ll decide to pick up in order to check this need off of the offseason list.

In the free agent market, there are options such as Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and, as I mentioned earlier this week, Alex Cobb. However, none of those options truly seem like game changers for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the trade market, Chris Archer’s name has continually been linked with the St. Louis Cardinals and almost constantly mentioned as an option for the team to solve their 2018 starting pitching problem.

ST. LOUIS, MO – AUGUST 27: Chris Archer

Archer, entering his age-29 season, is a bona fide ace in his prime. Over his past four seasons, the North Carolina native has posted respective fWAR numbers of 3.2, 5.2, 3.3 and 4.6. His 4-year fWAR total of 16.3 ranks as 11th-best in all of baseball over that span, just behind Stephen Strasburg and just ahead of Jacob DeGrom and Madison Bumgarner

Archer makes his living on being able to strikeout a literal boatload of hitters. 10.61 K/9 over that same 4-year span ranks 5th-best, one spot behind Clayton Kershaw.

In 2017, the Rays’ ace posted a career-high 11.2 K/9, combining that with a career low 6.9% walk rate to explain his 3.35 xFIP. And, to boot, Archer’s .335 BABIP against suggests that he may have been the victim of some bad luck this past year and that his 4.07 ERA should have been lower. 

Now, I don’t really think you need me to tell you that Chris Archer can pitch, and he can pitch well. What I am here to tell you is whether or not I believe Chris Archer is a reasonable trade target for the St. Louis Cardinals in their current state. 

In analyzing how realistic a potential Archer trade is, let’s first take a look at the team who would be trading him, the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays are notorious for off-loading high-end talent before it gets expensive in order to maintain their league-low payroll. Archer, as a 29 year old ace, certainly fits the bill of ‘high end talent’, but he’s certainly not expensive and already signed to an extension. A 6-year, $25.5 million extension signed in the 2013-14 offseason has two more years on it with salaries of $6.2 million and $7.5 million as well as two team-option years totaling $20 million between them.

It’s an insanely valuable contract for such an insanely valuable pitcher in today’s market and just might be able to buck the trend of Tampa Bay’s traditional cost-cutting model. However, because of that contract, the Rays would likely pounce on the right prospect haul back for their star pitcher.

Anyone in the league can afford this contract and the St. Louis Cardinals have the prospects to pull off virtually any trade that they want to. So, strictly from an on paper team fit standpoint, this trade ticks the box.

The only question here, as with literally any trade ever, is whether or not the value given up by St. Louis would out-weight the value Archer would bring. To figure that out, let’s look at Archer’s surplus value. 

With the cost of a win currently valued at $9 million and Steamer projecting Archer’s 2018 season to accrue 4.4 fWAR, I’ll add $500,000 onto the cost of a win each passing year and apply a normal aging curve to Archer’s projected WAR. Also, I’m going to assume that both of Archer’s team option years are picked up in 2020 and 2021. The surplus value chart comes out looking like this.

Clearly, Archer has extreme value in today’s game. Even without my fairly aggressive WAR projections in 2019-2021, he’s still forecasted to be worth 99.1% of the $33.7 million that he’s owed over the final 4 years of his contract in 2018 alone. Aside from super-prospects still making league minimum and Jose Altuve, Chris Archer is at or near the peak of Major League value.

That said, it would likely take quite the haul of prospects for the St. Louis Cardinals to get Tampa Bay to pull the trigger on this deal. Using invaluable research from The Point of Pittsburgh to determine prospect surplus values, here is my denoted and preferred trade package that could accomplish a Chris Archer to the St. Louis Cardinals in a trade from both a mathematical and common sense standpoint.

Alex Reyes, Carson Kelly, Randal Grichuk to Tampa Bay. Chris Archer to St. Louis

Applying Point of Pittsburgh’s research, we can reasonably estimate the surplus value of Reyes as $69.9 million, Kelly’s surplus value at $38.2 million, and Randal Grichuk’s 2018 projected surplus value of about $5 million, not including the 2 more years of control after 2018 that Grichuk would be under.

All told, the combined surplus value going back to Tampa Bay in this potential trade totals $113.1 million, nearly dead on with Archer’s surplus value of $113.5 million. Math wise, this one checks out.

From a baseball standpoint, Reyes is a top-end prospect who’s already had Tommy John surgery and has ace potential. He, Brent Honeywell, Jake Faria, and Blake Snell would look really good for years to come in Tampa Bay.

The Rays also need a young catcher to take the reigns from Wilson Ramos and Derek Norris, which is where Carson Kelly fits in. And Grichuk fits into the mold of what Corey Dickerson has been in Tampa Bay. Young, power hitting outfielder who can’t figure it out in limited at-bats elsewhere and comes to thrive at the Trop.

Compared to some of the other things I’ve been reading about Chris Archer, this trade package seems very light on talent going back to the Rays. However, as my math shows, it works out from a numbers standpoint and I give it a thumbs up from a baseball standpoint on both sides.

For the St. Louis Cardinals, it certainly hurts to give up Reyes and Kelly, but they’ve both been made relatively expendable through recent developments.

No longer is Reyes the lone untouchable Cardinals’ pitching farmhand; guys like Sandy Alcantara and Jordan Hicks have taken over that mantle from him. And the development and emergence of Andrew Knizner puts Carson Kelly in a difficult spot in St. Louis.

In an ideal world, you don’t have to give up either of these guys in order to land Chris Archer, but the world isn’t ideal and the Cardinals will have to bite down hard on some bullets in order to win more games.

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Realistically, Chris Archer – in my view – helps the Cardinals win more games in 2018 than Alex Reyes and Carson Kelly would and the immediate present is what St. Louis needs to worry about this offseason. On top of that, he’d sure look good in red.