The Tampa Bay Rays jumped into the trade deadline fray Wednesday and sent Nathan Eovaldi to the Boston Red Sox for prospect Jalen Beeks. Eovaldi is a pending free agent with overpowering stuff and a medical history that makes him the quintessential boom-or-bust deadline acquisition.
Now the question remains: Are the Rays bold enough to trade Chris Archer to a contender between now and July 31?
The Rays approached the deadline with a focus on moving Eovaldi and fellow short-timers Wilson Ramos, Sergio Romo, Carlos Gomez and Adeiny Hechavarria. Ramos was the clear headline piece until he suffered a pulled hamstring and went on the disabled list right after the All-Star break. But his recovery has progressed ahead of schedule, and he's at the point where he might be ready for a minor league rehab assignment and a return to the Rays' lineup in August. That timetable might be just quick enough to rekindle trade talks over the next few days.
The wild card in the equation is Archer, whose situation is complicated, to put it mildly. The Rays feel obligated to listen to offers because of the haul of young talent Archer would bring. But this feels like a deal more tailored for the offseason, when Erik Neander, Chaim Bloom and Tampa's front office can assess the landscape in a less frenzied environment and entertain offers from more than just a handful of interested parties.
Archer is a bit of a puzzle. He ranks ninth in MLB history (one spot ahead of Nolan Ryan) with an average of 9.73 strikeouts per nine innings. He's a terrific teammate and community ambassador, and no one ever questions his competitiveness. And his contract is always cited as a reason why the Rays want to keep him and potential suitors covet him. He's signed for $6.4 million this year and $7.7 million in 2019, with $9 million and $11 million club options for 2020 and 2021. Those are budget-friendly numbers regardless of a team's bottom line.
But Archer hasn't logged an ERA below 4.00 or a WAR above 2.0 since 2015, and all those swings and misses haven't helped him attain the designation of a bona fide "ace.'' Could his numbers improve in a less daunting environment than the American League East? Most evaluators accept that proposition. But Archer still isn't at the level of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, David Price, Justin Verlander and other starters who've had a big impact as midsummer trade acquisitions over the past decade.
The timing is also less than optimal. Archer just returned from an abdominal injury two weeks ago, and a National League scout estimates that he's at about "80 percent'' right now -- even though Archer struck out 13 hitters and didn't issue a walk in his last outing against the Marlins on Sunday.
"If you're expecting someone to save a season the way Verlander did with the Astros last year, he's not that kind of guy,'' the scout said. "He's stubborn when it comes to pitch selection. But he's such a good competitor, and he's not going to leave anything out there.
"I don't think he's a No. 1 starter, personally -- or a No. 2. It's not about the stuff. But he'll make more mistakes than a No. 1 or 2 can afford to make. He can pitch like a No. 1 on any given day or a No. 5 on any given day. I think he's in the middle of those two spectrums.''
The ultimate question is one of perceived value to Tampa Bay and potential suitors. If the Cleveland Indians had to part with top prospect Francisco Mejia for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, the Rays can expect a significantly bigger haul for Archer. The chatter will persist, but the reality is he's probably staying put for now.
Marlins have relievers to spare
The Marlins, who have been quiet to this point, have several bullpen pieces with appeal to contending clubs. Kyle Barraclough is the hot name, but some teams are concerned about his lack of command. While Barraclough's stuff is overpowering, he's averaged 11.7 strikeouts and 5.4 walks per nine innings over four seasons in Miami. His command can come and go.
In addition, veteran Brad Ziegler's name has been gaining traction of late. Ziegler has allowed three earned runs over 26 1/3 innings since June 1, and he's looked more comfortable since making a mechanical adjustment to take the strain off his back. He's 38 years old and he pitched effectively in Boston in 2016, so the stress of a pennant race isn't going to faze him. The Seattle Mariners recently placed a call to the Marlins on Ziegler, according to a source.
"It's a different look, and if you're in an extra-inning game, you know you can use him multi-innings,'' said a scout. "And he helps a lot of young kids in the bullpen with his experience. I didn't think they had a chance to move him, but he's really turned it around lately.''