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April 2, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Archer de Triomphe

by R.J. Anderson

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TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Agreed to a six-year extension with RHP Chris Archer worth $25.5 million guaranteed that includes two club options, which could push the total value over $45 million. [4/2]

For a while there, you wondered if the Rays were done with pre-arbitration extensions.

While the rest of the league got busy, Andrew Friedman went more than two years between signing a pre-arb player to an extension. Oh sure, Friedman extended David DeJesus and Ryan Hanigan, but those were veterans with one year of team control remaining; and yes, he inked Evan Longoria to a contract befitting the franchise cornerstone, but not until the third baseman became an established superstar. The last time Friedman signed a youngster to one of these deals came back in December 2011, when he secured Matt Moore's services for the long haul. Friedman proved he remembered the dance on Tuesday morning, this time with Archer as his partner.

So what about Archer caught Friedman's eye? The 25-year-old's arsenal features two high-caliber pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a slider that's among the game's best. Archer is a great athlete, and seemingly a self-aware and thoughtful individual away from the field—to the extent that his Twitter feed has been compared to that of the Dalai Lama. There's room for improvement, of course. Archer's changeup has lagged behind his other pitches, but the reviews from this spring are promising. He should be a middle-of-the-rotation starter if he stays healthy, and further development of his change-of-pace would allow him to exceed that projection.

There are no guarantees that Archer stays healthy, nor that his changeup develops. Hence why these deals carry risk; this one, though, is among the riskiest the Rays have signed, merely because of the guaranteed money. This is the most money the Rays have guaranteed to anyone since the second Longoria deal, and the most guaranteed via extension since they re-signed Scott Kazmir to a three-year, $28.5 million deal in 2008. The only other time the Rays have exceeded $20 million in guaranteed money came a little before that, when they ensured Carlos Pena would stick around after his breakout season. In both cases, the players were already in the arbitration phase of their careers.

Kazmir is, in particular, an intriguing comparison for Archer. After all, both packed dynamic fastball-slider combinations, and came to the Rays through trades for veteran starters. The end of Kazmir's time in Tampa Bay speaks to the fine line Friedman must walk when leveraging risk; this deal looks team-friendly now, but were Archer to slip, he might have to hit the eject button prematurely. You don't have to go back that far to find deals that looked better at the time of the signing than a few years later. Wade Davis' club options will not be exercised by the Royals and Matt Moore's options, which were givens not long ago, are to be determined along with the rest of his game.

Perhaps that risk is why the Rays have strayed from their usual business. This is not the old, signed-for-pennies brand of extension. Sure, Archer might have made more money through the arbitration process, as he would have been Super Two eligible, but there's no guarantee of that. Just as for the Rays, there's no guarantee they walk away with the same smiles they'll flash at the press conference—even if they are getting more money from the league-wide cash influx, and should be able to get a new local broadcast deal during the contract's duration.

You get why Archer did it, you get why the Rays did it. You hope it works out for both sides.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

Related Content:  Tampa Bay Rays,  Transactions

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