The Tampa Bay Rays traded starting pitcher Chris Archer to the Pittsburgh Pirates on 31st July 2018 for pitcher Tyler Glasnow, outfielder Austin Meadows and a player to be named later. A fortnight after the trade was made, prospect Shane Baz was named as the PTBNL.
Archer’s team-friendly contract made him a supposedly valuable trade chip. At the time of the deal, he was midway through a 2018 campaign which he was owed £6.416 million for per Baseball Reference. In 2019, that raised to $7.666 million. There are club options for $9 million and $11 million respectively in 2020 and 2021.
Ahead of the 2018 campaign, Meadows was the 45th-best prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. Glasnow had been a top 10 talent before 2017, but had a rough time in the Major Leagues that season. His stuff remained lights-out, though command was damaging his chances of becoming a Major Leaguer. Baz had been selected in the first-round by the Pirates in 2017 and was named Pipeline’s 67th prospect in their pre-2018 list.
Archer was off the back of an All-Star 2017, though his ERA was above four over the season. In 2015, he had finished fifth in Cy Young voting, but despite racking up the strikeouts, his results were not stellar in the following years.
Since joining the Pirates, the two-time All-Star has waned. The thought of being an ace is long gone, and Pittsburgh would surely be content if Archer could be league average. Instead, he’s been wild, seeing his ERA and FIP head into the fives.
For a small-market team like the Pirates, this trade was an almighty gamble. At the time, it looked an overpay, even with Baz recently drafted, Meadows just okay in the Majors and Glasnow struggling to throw strikes. The upside was obviously enormous.
The fact it came just weeks after the Pirates had traded previous ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros made it all the more surprising. Cole had underachieved as a Pirate – like Archer has done – and has since become a legitimate Cy Young pitcher in Houston. The return of Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin was inferior to what they later gave up for Archer.
Judging trades in hindsight isn’t always fair, but the trajectories of Musgrove, Moran, Feliz and Martin since moving to Pittsburgh are unsurprising, just like Glasnow, Baz and Meadows. While the Cole trade sort of made sense amid the mini-rebuild with Andrew McCutchen traded away, the Archer deal seemed reckless. It was a huge chunk of talent to give up for a pitcher that – even if he remained at the same level – wasn’t going to drastically move the needle.
The Pirates have suffered a historically poor second half, going 11-31 since the midsummer classic.
Archer and Glasnow are on their respective injured lists, but Glasnow was monstrous in his eight early season starts, earning 2 bWAR and a sub-two ERA. Baz is dominating in single-A – he’s up to 88 on Baseball Prospectus’ top 100. Meadows was named an All-Star, and owns a 129 wRC+.
A little over a year after it happened, this trade has got very ugly for the Pirates. Their franchise is in a challenging position, particularly with the recent news about Jameson Taillon’s absence. Meadows, Baz and Glasnow’s development might have been different if they had remained in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates’ future would have substantially more hope than it does now.
The Pirates dealt a bucketload of upside – from three immensely talented ballplayers – for the relative guarantee of an innings-eating ace. Archer’s performance in Pittsburgh has been worse than the worst-case scenario, but even if he’d performed as expected, this trade would sting.
It’s hard to see where the Pirates go from here. The Rays, meanwhile, are in a postseason push with Meadows as their best hitter and Glasnow’s return from injury looming to give them a boost down the stretch. Baz isn’t anywhere near the Majors yet, and this trade from July 2018 has altered the future of both franchises.