Position: Starting Pitcher
2017 Stats: 201.0 IP, 3.52 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 1.23 WHIP, 29.2 K%, 7.0 BB%, 3.30 DRA
How He Fits: The Cubs have been in pursuit of long-term rotation pieces for the last three years. That isn’t a secret. Part of their quest culminated in the acquisition of Jose Quintana, but with the impending departure of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester heading into his age-34 season, that quest is going to be an ongoing one. There’s an argument to be made that there is far more upside in the starters available via trade rather than those on the free agent market, and Archer certainly represents part of the upper echelon of potentially available starters on the trade side, coming off of a third consecutive season of over 200 IP and a WARP of 5.0 or better.
Archer’s 3.77 ERA over the last three seasons is the 41st best among 123 qualifying Major League starters, with his FIP ranking 16th among that same group. His strikeout percentage, at 28.6, ranks sixth among qualifiers. His walk rate, at about 7.5, ranks closer to the middle of the pack. He’s 29 and has less than 1,000 big league innings on his arm, so there isn’t any question about his addition serving as a long-term piece. The recent hiring of Jim Hickey to the coaching staff makes it all the more appealing for the Cubs, as having come from Tampa Bay, he’s a coach that Archer has experienced quite a bit of success with. His deal, which has four years (two of which are option years) and $34 million left on it, is also extremely team-friendly.
Why It Won’t Work: The simplest reason for why this won’t work out is the cost. This being a trade scenario, Archer is going to cost quite a bit in terms of trade assets, which the Cubs would appear to be short on, at least in the sense of blue-chip types. Someone off of their Major League roster could be a starting point, such as Kyle Schwarber or Ian Happ, but how far the Cubs would be willing to go into their depth to make such a move possible remains to be seen.
There’s also a semblance of a potential durability concern here, at least in the long-term. Archer’s 44.4 percent slider usage in 2017 was easily the highest among Major League starters, and his 41.3 percent usage rate over the last three seasons also leads the pack. Could that heavy slider usage have some negative health effects later on down the line? Not necessarily, but that’ll likely be at least part of the consideration for the Cubs’ front office.
Alternatives: There are at least a few key names that the Cubs will consider on the free agent pitching market, but one starter that stands out, in terms of trades, could be old friend Jeff Samardzija. He’s coming off of a season in which he posted a 24.4 K percentage and a minuscule walk rate of only 3.8 percent. There are a number of factors that have contributed to his struggles since departing the North Side, some of which are factored into his sharply decreased groundball rate. Nonetheless, the peripherals are much better than many of his statistics would have you believe, and if we’re talking about trade targets, Samardzija could be a very nice alternative to Archer. He likely wouldn’t cost as much, in terms of depth and prospects, while his deal (at three years and $59 million) is still somewhat reasonable, even if not as absurdly team-friendly as the former’s.
Lead photo courtesy Kim Klement—USA Today Sports