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Milwaukee Brewers Free Agent Targets: Chris Archer

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Pirates loss, Brewers gain?

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Toronto Blue Jays John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates recently declined the $11M option on Chris Archer for 2021, making him a free agent. With that in mind, would it be conceivable that the Brewers sign the 32-year old hurler to be a part of their pitching staff?

David Stearns has demonstrated interest in Chris Archer previously. Thankfully he did not pull the trigger on a trade for him in 2018, because what the Pirates gave up for him (Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz) was an astronomical price. Now, however, Milwaukee could acquire his services for the price of a contract, and the size of that contract could be reasonable in price and length.

It could be argued that Archer’s reputation and perceived potential escalated his market price back in 2018. His outcome numbers in 2016 and 2017 placed him more in the mid- to back-of-the-rotation category as opposed to front-line starter category. He did pitch quite well in previous seasons with 2015 being his best posting a 3.23 ERA and a 5.1 fWAR.

Worth noting, when you looked at his periphery numbers over his career up to 2019, he actually is really good. He has consistently posted K/9 percentages around 10 to 11 per 9. Prior to 2019, his FIP and xFIP numbers were always in the 3s. So the Pirates gave up a great deal, but it looked as if they were getting a starting pitcher to front their staff.

Archer was not that level of starter for Pittsburgh. While he pitched okay for Pittsburgh post-trade in 2018, he was not good in 2019. He maintained high strike out numbers (10.75 K/9), but he walked more hitters (4.14 BB/9) than at any point in his career. He also gave up more home runs (1.88 HR/9) than at any point in his career. The results were a 5.19 ERA and a 5.02 FIP.

The results of 2019 were not in line with the Chris Archer’s career norms. There was likely something wrong with him physically. Archer had surgery on June 2 of 2020 to relieve symptoms thoracic outlet syndrome. This surgery is indicative that Archer was pitching through pain and discomfort that was probably affecting his performance during 2019. The surgery also ensured that he would not pitch for the entire 2020 season.

The news of Archer’s surgery makes this a cautionary tale. Pitchers that had this procedure include Matt Harvey, Tyler Thornburg, Tyson Ross, Matt Harrison, Carter Capps, and Kyle Zimmer. These hurlers never returned to their previous levels. There are successes, however, with pitchers having this surgery. Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Clayton Richard all came back from this surgery and pitched well.

Archer is certainly a rebound candidate coming into 2021, and he is clear to pursue normal baseball activities to start the season. Kyle Glaser and J.J. Cooper of Baseball America rate Chris Archer as their #1 upside signing for 2021. If he can return to anything close to what he was in 2018 and prior, the acquiring team would have a solidifying presence in their rotation.

Chris Archer is also a risk. TOS surgery is nothing to scoff at. A lot of pitchers have not come back from it, so the odds for Archer might be daunting. Nonetheless a 1-year contract with an option might get it done. Archer will certainly be motivated to prove himself as well. Are the Brewers the team to make a deal work for his services, and should they?