Rays fans, enjoy Chris Archer while you can

Rays starter Chris Archer pitches against the Orioles on July 27, 2018. (Associated Press)
Rays starter Chris Archer pitches against the Orioles on July 27, 2018. (Associated Press)
Published Jul. 28, 2018|Updated Jul. 28, 2018

BALTIMORE — Mark DeRosa got a little dramatic, as even ex-players do when they get on TV, comparing Chris Archer's status with the Rays to the long-imprisoned lead character in the classic Shawshank Redemption movie.

"Chris Archer is Andy Dufresne,'' DeRosa pleaded in the MLB Network bit, complete with a modified "photo" of Archer with a group of previously traded Rays in a scene from the film. "Can we let this guy out? All his yard mates have left, up and down the line. Look at it, Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson, they've all escaped.''

Being with the Rays obviously hasn't been that bad for Archer, who worked six so-so innings in Friday's rain-delayed ugly 15-5 loss at Baltimore.

But there is a sense, around the game and around the team, that his time with the Rays is coming to an end, with a trade before Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline for nonwaiver deals.

It's not for sure, maybe 50-50 at best. And the Rays have done this dance a number of other times.

But the conditions for a deal seem more favorable than ever before.

Archer, 29, is one of the few frontline pitchers available as more than a rental, under control for another three seasons at a relative bargain total of $27.5 million.

The Rays are perceived among industry officials and evaluators as more willing to make a trade now than just talk about it as in the past, giving off a similar vibe as last offseason when they made the stunning move to deal franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria.

And, perhaps most relevant, the teams among the most interested, such as the Astros, Braves, Padres and Yankees (who may have to pay a slight intra-division premium), have the inventory of high-end young major-leaguers and upper-level prospects the Rays would want. The Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Indians and Phillies are among others in a group of a dozen or so teams said to have expressed some level of serious interest.

Take the Padres, who could build a package around power-hitting outfielder Hunter Renfroe and one of their young catchers, either Austin Hedges or newly acquired Francisco Mejia.

Archer took the mound Friday aware of the trade talk but trying to not look at it as potentially his last game in a Rays uniform.

Now that he won't pitch again until after the deadline?

"Curious is the best word," he said. "I think everybody is. You guys (in the media) are. I am. The Rays are curious who is going to call. Other teams are curious what they are going to accept or deny. There's just a lot of curiosity. And I'm in the same boat."

Pitching in a stadium where he rarely does well, in a game that was delayed nearly an hour and a half by bad weather, and with scouts from some, but not all, of the interested teams watching intently, Archer was not particularly sharp.

Certainly not as fine as in his 13-strikeout, no-walk outing on Sunday. And probably not as bad as the final line looked, allowing four runs (three earned) in six innings on seven hits (including a Jonathan Schoop homer) and two walks with three Ks.

He threw 63 of 93 pitches for strikes, got credit for a quality start and left with the Rays trailing 4-3, and a Ji-Man Choi baserunning mistake (one of several missteps by the Rays) potentially keeping them from being tied.

"I felt like I had good stuff; they found a way to put the ball in play and found holes," Archer said. "I don't feel like I did terrible, but obviously a little room for improvement."

It got ugly after he was replaced by Austin Pruitt, with the Orioles scoring eight runs in the seventh. And uglier in the eighth when the Rays (53-51) put outfielder Carlos Gomez on the mound. He walked four and balked twice, having to get relieved by catcher Jesus Sucre.

"It wasn't a good day to say the least," manager Kevin Cash said.

The Rays got Archer in a January 2011 deal with the Cubs similar to the kind they would want to make now. They sent veteran pitcher Matt Garza (and two add-ons) to Chicago for a parcel of young talent: shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Robinson Chirinos, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld, and Archer. (The Cubs got Archer as a Class A prospect from the Indians in a 2008 deal, ironically, for DeRosa.)

And Archer has done well for them, though not as much in wins and losses as innings pitched and some advanced metrics. And not to the elite level he so craves to be part of.

After Friday, he has a 54-68, 3.69 record in 179 games over parts of seven seasons, making two AL All-Star teams while posting 200-plus innings and 230-plus strikeouts in each of the previous three seasons. And primarily all with just two pitches, a high-octane fastball and wipeout slider, as he continues to work on improving his changeup.

"He's a top 20 pitcher in baseball for me,'' pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. "When you think about just the stuff, and it's tough to argue with the durability, the 200 innings pitched, the number of strikeouts that he's accumulated in his career (1,143 in 1,057 innings).''

Ask around the clubhouse and his teammates, naturally, say they want to see him stay.

"Let's keep him around,'' said Blake Snell, who has supplanted Archer as the Rays' top starter. "For him to go, I would be pretty upset. So I've got to hold my breath until the 31st and hopefully when the trade deadline is over I can breath and we can keep pushing until the end of the season with him, as well as next year.''

But others are more realistic.

"We know what we're going up against, we know the business side of things,'' veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "There's teams interested in Arch. And why would you not be — a very affordable contract that most teams would love to have.

"If we're thinking about shipping him away, then there's not a whole lot we can do about that. I've enjoyed playing behind him for the time I have, and I hope it doesn't come to an end. With the world we live in nowadays, you never know what to expect. I think the world of him. …

"I hope he stays in a Rays uniform, but given what's going on around here lately, especially with the demand around baseball, I wouldn't be surprised.''

Based on what's being said around the game, not many people would.