FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins are reportedly engaged in trade talks with the Rays involving a cost-controlled ace named Chris Archer. Those trade talks are the current dream scenario of a lot of Twins fans wishing and hoping their team will add a force to the top of the rotation and helping power the team back to the postseason after last year’s surprise appearance.
There are some important things to note — a pessimist might call them complications — that would make any Archer-to-the-Twins trade a bit tricky. Let’s run through them.
Kepler’s name was mentioned in a Star Tribune report this week as a possible trade target for the Rays. I like Kepler and think he’s going to be a fine Major Leaguer, especially if he can get to work improving against left-handed pitching, his kryptonite at present. If he can do that I’m on the record as saying that the young outfielder will make multiple all-star teams.
But the truth is that right now Kepler is a corner outfielder that could be relegated to part-time player status. And in terms of team control, Kepler has just one more year than Archer. There’s a case to be made that the rebuilding Rays would like to mitigate the downside of injury risk by swapping 4 years of a pitcher for 5 years of a position player. But even so, at this point in their respective careers Kepler would be only the start of a trade conversation.
Derek Falvey took over last winter as Chief Baseball Officer, and since then, he’s hard to pin down as a guy who will draw hard lines in the sand. He doesn’t seem to have rules hard-wired in. One example is his reluctance to ever call a player “off limits” when discussing the general topic of trade discussions with other clubs.
Every player could be moved for the right price, I guess.
With that said, Royce Lewis should not find his name being seriously discussed as a potential return for 4 years of Chris Archer.
The baseline assumption for players selected first overall in the amateur draft is that they’ll be stars. Royce Lewis, not yet 19 years old, has done nothing to move you off that baseline opinion. He hit the ground running in pro ball last year, where he advanced out of rookie ball and hit .279/.381/.407 between two levels of the minors, with 18 steals and signs of a good eye at the plate. All of that for a shortstop who apparently grades at the top of the charts for his leadership.
I’m not saying Lewis is guaranteed to be a superstar. But the possibilty exists, and trading 6 years of that player for 4 cheap years of Archer could be something a team on the rise would live to regret.
Twins GM Thad Levine talked on Tuesday at Hammond Stadium about the snail-paced trade market, which could be playing off the slow-moving free agent market.
“The only thing slower so far than the free agent market has been the trade market,” Levine said. “I’m sure those are very connected.”
“I think the trades that are being discussed [right now are] buyers talking to buyers. … The prospect of kind of weakening one part of your team to strengthen another is not appealing. And certainly to find two teams that find that appealing is a challenge.”
Two things are working against the Twins in this instance.
a) There are a bunch of free agents still available, which in turn has not forced any trades, since good teams know that they can probably still get what they seek on the free-agent market.
b) The large handful of teams that have already given up hope for the 2018 season had already identified themselves. Teams like the Marlins, for example, have already traded away a lot of Major League talent. That means there are relatively few sellers for the number of interested buyers, and so the Twins could be left as the team looking to buy a nice house at the height of a great real estate market — a great market for sellers, that is.
Long story made shorter: if you’re going roster shopping with other clubs right now, they’re likely to ask for top value in return.
Archer has 4 years left on his deal. The Rays can relax, ask for the moon in a trade dialogue, and politely decline an counter-offers until they get exactly what they’re seeking. If they can’t strike a deal? So what. They can just trot into the season with their popular ace leading the charge.
Sure, there’s some injury risk. There’s the risk that Archer could have a down year, and perhaps damage his future trade value. But also, he could be healthy and great this year. And the trade deadline has a way of doing funny things to asking prices. Or next winter, the Rays would still have an affordable Archer with 3 years on his contract, and theoretically there could be a higher number of interested buyers. Maybe the White Sox, Phillies or Pirates will be good by then, for example.
A greater demand for roughly the same supply would be a good thing for the Rays.
Why would you get Chris Archer over Yu Darvish? Well, the contract is way friendlier in the case of the former. And therefore, the cost to acquire that nice-looking contract will be substantial. Affordable aces are a scarce resource in today’s MLB.
In some ways, Archer’s affordable salary actually works against the Twins in these conversations. I think Archer is a great pitcher, and I can tell that based on the salaries of other good starting pitchers his contract looks really affordable for the next 4 seasons. I also think that Zach Greinke is a great pitcher. He’s making an average of about $34 million a year from Arizona to be a great pitcher. Archer, meanwhile isn’t being paid like a great pitcher, making him a more desirable commodity.
The same thing that makes him desirable should also make the Rays ask for more in return than the Diamondbacks could ask for if they made Greinke available. (Speaking of the top starter for the Snakes, there’s an idea for the Twins if they’re looking to get out of paying a high cost in prospects and would prefer to just pay a truckload of money for an ace.)