Rays, RHP Chris Archer agree to six-year, $25.5 million deal

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Chris Archer slowed his words, the emotion overwhelming him. It was early Wednesday afternoon at Tropicana Field, and the Tampa Bay Rays right-hander tried to capture the journey that led to what he called his ”first fortune.”

A new eight-year contract worth a minimum of $25.5 million, with the first six years guaranteed, had been announced a day before he was scheduled to make his season debut. His eyes pooled with tears as he spoke. The moment was closure, but it also represented a beginning.

”I think the way I would like to describe it is,” Archer said, ”for any kid out there who has been told that he can’t do something …”

He paused.

”I mean, I’m living proof that you can,” he continued, his eyes watering. ”Whatever it is — whether it’s sports, whether it’s school, whether you want to be a general manager of a baseball team or a professor, whatever it is, you’re fully capable of doing it if you put in 100 percent purpose and intent, you’ll be rewarded.”

The reward comes in security for Archer and future stability within the rotation for the Rays. He has just 29 appearances, 27 starts, throughout parts of two seasons in the major leagues, all with Tampa Bay.

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But the Rays’ front office has studied the talent and intangibles he offers since he joined the franchise as part of the eight-player trade with the Chicago Cubs in January 2011 that included right-hander Matt Garza. They like what they see.

The talent: A high ceiling as one of the American League’s most promising arms, as evidenced by his 9-7 record with a 3.22 ERA in 23 starts after his promotion from Triple-A Durham last June. He finished 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 10 starts against AL East competition during the Rays’ run to the AL Division Series, including a 3-0 mark with a 1.23 ERA in three starts against the New York Yankees. He was third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote, two spots behind teammate Wil Myers.

The intangibles: A considerable work ethic with a world perspective, shaped in part by his adoption at age 2 by his maternal grandparents, that make him different from most who grace a clubhouse. The native of Clayton, N.C., is known for his reading interest and uncommon vocabulary. Last year, Rays manager Joe Maddon called him ”a different cat.”

”When we’re going through this, it’s really important to not only identify the talent in a player but also who they are,” said Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations. ”In a lot of ways, we feel like when we do these, that when we’re doing it with the right guys, with the right players, it actually puts them in a position to have more success. They’re able to exhale and not worry about that component about it nearly as much. They’re able to focus on being great and not worry about the unknown.”

The Rays are banking on Archer to continue his progression. He enters the season as the team’s fourth starter, behind a mentor in left-hander David Price, plus right-hander Alex Cobb and left-hander Matt Moore. Archer impressed last July, when he went 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA in five starts with just 17 hits allowed.

Archer’s contract guarantees the Rays will remain his home for at least the next six seasons, though change is familiar to him. The Cleveland Indians selected him in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB draft from Clayton (N.C.) High School. He was traded to the Cubs in December 2008, before working his way from Single-A to Double-A throughout the next two seasons.

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”For me, the motivation is that the organization sees greatness in me,” Archer said. ”Not the dollar figures, obviously, I’ve mentioned that. But the fact that they’re willing to make such a long-term commitment to me with less than a year of service time — that means a lot.

”And I heard (third baseman Evan) Longoria say one time, a few years ago, that he wants to outplay his contract. I feel like I’m in the same position. So for me, my objective every time I touch the mound is to maximize my potential.”

Archer’s contract talks were held throughout spring training. Friedman said the sides came to an understanding that the deal was done last Saturday, two days before the Rays opened the season with a victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.

Archer referenced the fact that few things in life are promised. Seeing pitchers sustain serious elbow and shoulder injuries, as well as recent concussions — including Cobb’s last June — influenced his choice to reach an agreement.

”I don’t know if they happened as a sign for me, but I took them as a sign for me,” Archer said. ”Just a sign of what’s unknown. There are few things in life that are guaranteed, and the Rays have guaranteed me six years.”

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.