Chris Archer and I exchanged a few text messages in December regarding the inking of international pitchers to guaranteed MLB contracts.
“It’s crazy,” Archer mentioned. “Pitchers from different countries can get excessive signing bonuses and contracts and their counterparts from the U.S., men who are the same age make the league minimum. I understand it’s the system, the nature of the business. But somehow, shouldn’t it be more even?”
Perhaps, but with the events of the last few days, Archer has a new perspective to consider.
The Tampa Bay Rays struck a pact with the right-hander on a six-year deal with two club-option years, the team announced on Wednesday. The contract is worth $25 million guaranteed. The two option years would pay Archer about $9 million and $11 million.
Archer wasn’t always in line for this payday. As far back as seventh grade, he faced adversity when he was cut by his team. As a professional, he found himself in his third organization when he was just 22 years old.
On Jan. 8, 2011, the Cubs acquired reliable right-hander Matt Garza, reliever Zac Rosscup and outfielder Fernando Perez from the Rays in exchange for Sam Fuld and four prospects: Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, and of course, Archer.
Perez is out of baseball, Rosscup has logged less than seven innings in the majors, and Garza pitches for the Brewers, costing $12.5 million per year.
Fuld helped the Rays reach the playoffs in 2011 and win 90 games in 2012, Lee is arguably the Rays’ top prospect, Guyer is in their current outfield mix, and Archer is now on a ridiculously club-friendly contract and under complete club control for the next eight years. He could be as good as Garza as early as this year.
According to fangraphs.com, Archer was worth 1.2 WAR last season while Garza was worth 2.2. But Archer pitched an additional 50 innings in Triple-A last season. Assuming those innings will now be at the MLB level, it’s not illogical to assume that the two will be comparable in 2014.
For an illumination of Archer’s remarkably high ceiling, simply listen to his pitching coach, Jim Hickey, gush.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the year, he’s the best of the bunch,” Hickey told MLB Network Radio.
That bunch, for the record, includes ace David Price, who won the AL Cy Young in 2012. Maybe Hickey was caught up in the moment, but if Archer slots somewhere in the middle of that bunch, he’s an instant bargain basement discount with some unique off-the-field makeup.
Archer has cerebral gifts too. He’s one of the deepest thinkers I’ve encountered. While his rotation mates are out golfing, the 25-year-old Archer reads. Just check out his Twitter post from Tuesday morning.
The best investment is an investment in ones self. Mind, body, soul.
Based on his analytical mind, I’m guessing that Archer can put together the pieces of the puzzle that is the success of the Rays. He understands what separates them. That’s part of the reason he agreed to this deal.
Perhaps most importantly, the Rays cultivate an environment that continually inspires players to want to stay in the uniform.
As a member of the team in 2009 and 2010, I experienced the clubhouse culture put in place by manager Joe Maddon and his staff. It’s one that encourages free thinkers like Archer, a light atmosphere that values the input of the players, and a dugout rich with laughter and team-first attitude.
The Rays organization pays close attention to what’s going on mentally and emotionally for its players. Tampa successfully identifies players who are motivated to stay part of that group, considering the extraordinary financial disadvantage the team has in the AL East.
The organization’s lean to lock up their best young players isn’t without risk. The danger of lack of performance or injury perpetually looms. But the Rays don’t have a choice. Based on payroll constraints, they are forced to work hard to mitigate downside, then pounce.
Case in point, left-hander Matt Moore.
Moore is under team control potentially through his age 30 season, if the Rays pick up all three club options. Those options come in at an average annual value of $8.5 million, for a total contract of $39.75 million.
Archer’s deal may be even friendlier to the club, depending on his production. Time will tell.
Of course, no discussion of team-friendly contracts would be complete without mention of Evan Longoria’s deal. His latest extension likely made him a Ray for life, wrapping him cozily in the Tampa uniform through age 37. Only 28 now, his contract has an average annual value (AAV) of just $16.7 million. If he hit the market today, he’d likely match or exceed the contract value of Robinson Cano at an AAV of $24 million.
Here’s the kicker. This isn’t a story about the shrewd businessmen swindling the starry-eyed players. The Rays players on these phenomenally club-friendly deals are happy. They’re not clamoring to go elsewhere. Would they like to be making more? No doubt. Every rational human being would answer that question with a resounding, “Yes.” But the Rays front office identifies the desires of the players with laser-sharp precision and satisfies them in a timely fashion. The Rays get cost certainty, the players can take care of their families, and everyone can focus on winning baseball games.
"One of my goals in life was to reward my parents for what they did 25 years ago and placing me on this path,” Archer told me. “So, the ability to make them debt-free and allowing them to see every start I make the rest of my career (if they want) played a role.
"Another thing that played a part was the fact that my ego isn’t that big. I don’t think how much money I make or have will ever determine my true value, whether it be $25 million or $300 million. I’m going to be financially secure three times over at the end of six years. How much does one need? How much does one want?"
Archer is the latest Rays player to secure his future and that of his family. He’s content and relaxed. That’s a fertile mindset for success.
The Rays understand this cycle. That’s why they have the most wins in baseball over the last five years with fewer resources than 90 percent of the teams. They comprehend the dynamic of creating a win-win.