ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays found the deal they were looking for, trading top starter Chris Archer to the Pirates for two premium young players, OF Austin Meadows and RHP Tyler Glasnow, plus a third piece that is still being finalized and listed as a player to be named.
Meadows, 23, is a young power-hitting outfielder with good overall tools, currently hitting .292 with 5 homers, 13 RBIs and a .795 OPS in 49 games.
Glasnow, 24, is a hard-throwing potential impact starter who has had control issues in the majors but starred in the minors, working now out of the Pirates bullpen with 72 strikeouts in 56 innings.
Archer, 29, has been the leader of the Rays rotation for the past several years, making four straight opening-day starts and setting an example with his diligent workout regimen and preparation.
He also has done extensive work in the Tampa Bay community, through his own Archway Foundation and working with Starting Right, Now, a non-profit that addresses teen homelessness.
The Rays have talked about trading Archer for the past several years, but there has been a growing consensus throughout baseball that they would do so this time.
For one, Archer was one of the few available frontline pitchers who is more than a rental, under team control for three more seasons at the relative bargain rate of $27.5 million total.
For another, several of the teams with the deepest pools of young major- and advanced minor-league talent were interested, including the Braves, Brewers, Padres, Yankees and Dodgers.
And, for less tangible reasons, there was a growing sense around the game that they were more willing to move him now, similar to the vibe this past winter when after years of discussion they opted to move franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria. As one person familiar with the Archer talks said last week, "It's a different situation."
Archer's teammates had hoped he would stay.
“Let’s keep him around,’’ All-Star starter Blake Snell said last week. “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.
"We're only getting better. It's exciting to be a Ray right now and I want him to be here along the next couple years.''
Others were more realistic.
"We know what we're going up against, we know the business side of things,'' veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said last week. "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.''
The Rays got Archer as a promising prospect in a January 2011 deal with the Cubs.
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.
And Archer has done well for them, though not as much in wins and losses as innings pitched and some advanced metrics, or the elite level he wants to be part of.
After making his last start for the Rays on Friday, Archer had a 54-68, 3.69 record in 179 games (177 starts) over parts of seven seasons, averaging more than a strikeout per inning (1,146 in 1,063), making two AL All-Star teams working 200-plus innings 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."