Hot Stove season is here, and NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at free agents who could fit the Cubs’ needs — and budget. Next up is Pirates starter Chris Archer.
The Cubs could have three starting pitchers depart as free agents this winter in Tyler Chatwood, Jon Lester and José Quintana.
Chatwood and Quintana aren’t expected to return, and Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay are expected to take their places in the rotation with Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks. Lester and the Cubs each are interested in a reunion and bringing the veteran lefty back on a short-term, low-cost deal makes sense.
Even if Lester returns, the Cubs will be in the market for starting pitching depth this offseason. After a pandemic season of revenue losses where they made over 100 layoffs organization-wide, they’re in cost-cutting mode, so while Trevor Bauer would create a dream 1-2-3 punch, he won’t be in their market.
But one low-cost, potential high-reward starter that would fit is former Ray and Pirate Chris Archer, a well-liked, respected veteran in the game.
Archer, 32, has been connected to the Cubs as a potential trade candidate on numerous occasions in recent seasons, when he was a cost-controlled starter with the Rays. He once was in the Cubs’ farm system, coming over from Cleveland in a trade involving Mark DeRosa on New Year’s Eve in 2008.
He only spent one year with the Cubs, reaching Double-A in 2010, before they traded him to Tampa Bay in the Matt Garza deal in January 2011.
Archer was one of the game’s better pitchers with the Rays, making two All-Star teams. He posted a 3.63 ERA and 1.214 WHIP from 2012-17 while pitching in the tough AL East, making 30+ starts from 2014-17. From 2015-17, he finished fourth, fifth and fourth in baseball in strikeouts.
The Rays traded him to Pittsburgh at the 2018 trade deadline, a lopsided deal that netted Tampa Bay Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow, while things went downhill for Archer as a Pirate. He only made 33 starts with a 4.92 ERA and 1.395 WHIP, missing the final month of 2019 with right shoulder inflammation. He then missed the entire 2020 season after undergoing surgery to relieve symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome.
Pittsburgh declined Archer’s 2021 option worth $11 million, and although he’s expected to be ready for the start of next season, there is some risk involved in signing him. However, he’s a very intriguing buy-low candidate with a good track record.
Archer was extremely durable up until 2019. He's a premier strikeout pitcher, one with a mid-to-high-90s fastball with a wipeout slider — which, admittedly, was less effective in 2018 and '19 than the previous two seasons.
If the Cubs trust his medicals, Archer is worth taking a flier on, at least as a non-roster spring training invitee. Or perhaps they sign him to a short-team, reasonable deal with incentives built in contingent on him hitting certain performance thresholds.
Other clubs will be thinking along these lines, and some may be willing to give Archer a guaranteed deal at a higher cost. But if the Cubs are interested and find a way to add him, Archer is a bounce back candidate that has the chance to be a significant addition.