ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Chris Archer’s new career began Thursday night. He had 29 appearances with the Tampa Bay Rays the past two seasons, so he’s not completely new, of course. But he’s something different now, fresh off signing an eight-year, $43.75 million contract Wednesday that guarantees him $25.5 million the next six years.
This new phase will be good — as long as Archer lets it be.
Archer’s deal is a reward, respect and responsibility all wrapped into a commitment that says, from the Rays’ perspective, ”We like what we see from you, even though we’ve only received a glimpse and you’re just 25 years old. You can be great. Be great with us.”
That’s lofty respect. Archer can use the message as motivation. But to the distracted, it can become a strain that drains the mind. It can become an obstacle.
”Being in this organization, the players that are in it and the front office — that’s why I wanted to do it,” Archer said Wednesday at Tropicana Field, after the contract was announced. ”If I only play out this contract and that’s it, I’m going to be totally happy, because I was in the best place for me.”
Archer must show the maturity to make the outcome positive. He has the intellect and discipline to make it happen. Both are important, and members of the Rays’ front office have studied him enough to know his strengths.
These deals are nothing new to Tampa Bay. Since 2005, the Rays made a habit of locking up young stars, names they predict will do big things: Carl Crawford, James Shields, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Moore, etc.
Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, spoke Wednesday about how the club bets on a person as much as the talent. That’s a wise way to go about risk-reward scenarios like extensions.
None of these are done with haste. They’re like living the growth from a casual relationship to long-term affection with a young love. There’s no ”it’s complicated” about them.
That’s what makes Archer’s case interesting. By nature, he can be a complicated guy. His maternal grandparents adopted him at age 2. He’s an avid reader. There was a section in the Rays’ game notes Thursday that said he completed Malcolm Gladwell’s ”David and Goliath,” Bruce H. Lipton’s ”The Honeymoon Effect” and a yet-to-be-released book by Howard Falco.
How many do that?
”I’ve never thought about it,” Archer said of his new fortune Thursday. ”So having it or not having a contract or money didn’t affect me, because it has never been a thought in my mind whenever I was in between the lines. … I think that’s a part of me trying to strengthen myself mentally so the outside factors don’t affect me when I’m between the lines.”
Archer is self-aware. He’s a deep thinker, which can have many effects in baseball. Instincts matter so much in this game. Archer is still learning to trust his.
That’s why some wondered how he would handle Thursday night in his start against the Toronto Blue Jays. Some were curious if he would treat the extension as motivation. Others were curious if he would lock up. Both outcomes were possible, and there was a bit of mystery when Archer took the mound in those familiar striped socks.
But he was solid in the Rays’ 7-2 victory. His fastball and slider looked good. His change-up was there. He allowed just two runs and four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts. The Rays couldn’t have asked for much more.
”I don’t think this contract will be used as motivation or a deterrent or a difficulty for him to try to live up to,” Rays right-hander Alex Cobb said. ”I think it will allow Chris to be Chris even more, because all he is is self pride and (he’s) really making sure he gets every ounce of his ability and puts it out on the field.”
”It eases anybody’s mind,” said Rays reliever Joel Peralta, whose locker is to the left of Archer’s spot in the clubhouse. ”It lets you know that your future is secure. He deserves that. I think he is going to be great.”
This is only the beginning for Archer. He must prove he has the stamina to be an elite starter all season. The major leagues are unforgiving, and Archer is still finding his way like all young players.
He started strong after a call-up from Triple-A Durham last June. But following a season-best 0.73 ERA in five July appearances, he posted a 3.63 ERA in six August starts and a 4.78 ERA in six September starts. He pitched just 1.2 innings in the playoffs, all against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.
The questions come with the promise. But it’s intriguing to consider where this extension could lead.
It gives Archer a chance to grow with the Rays’ other young rotation members. Moore and right-handers Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and Jake Odorizzi have high ceilings too. Preserving a talented core is wise.
Thursday was Archer’s opening step in his transition from a young interest to a $25.5 million man. He handled it well, and the Rays expect him to pitch in a similar way in the months and years to come.
Life is good with financial security. But as Archer will learn, it comes with responsibility too.