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The Strike Zone

With Chris Archer extension, Rays continue trend of locking up top pitchers early

Chris Archer TK. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)Chris Archer went 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA last year, finishing third in ROY voting. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Six years ago, the Rays turned the corner thanks to their ability to develop strong starting pitching. Despite limited finances, they've remained contenders in the big bad AL East thanks to foresight in signing the best of those pitchers to long-term extensions, thus controlling costs through their arbitration years or even further. They've done it again by signing Chris Archer to a six-year, $25.5 million deal which includes two additional club option years.

Unlike predecessors James Shields, David Price, Wade Davis or Matt Moore, Archer wasn't actually drafted by the Rays. Command woes and a pair of trades made his route to the majors the most circuitous of the bunch. Selected out of ISIS a North Carolina high school in the fifth round of the 2006 draft by the Indians, he struggled in the low minors and was dealt  to the Cubs on Dec. 31, 2008 in a deal for Mark DeRosa, then to the Rays in the January 2011 Matt Garza blockbuster. After debuting in 2012, he joined the rotation for good last June, and turned in 23 starts with a 3.22 ERA (118 ERA+) and 7.1 strikeouts per nine the rest of the way on the strength of his mid-90s fastball and one of the game's best sliders. He tossed two shutouts in a three-start span right after the All-Star break, capped by a 97-pitch, two-hit shutout of the Yankees in the Bronx — his first career Maddux, to use blogger Jason Lukehart's term.

Archer did run out of gas in September; getting knocked around for a 4.78 ERA and lasting less than five innings in four of six starts. Even so, his performance earned him third place in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind teammate Wil Myers and Jose Iglesias.

The year-by-year breakdown of the 25-year-old righty's contract hasn't been reported yet, but what's known is that the two option years bump the total value to $43.75 million. The contract follows the template the Rays used in locking up Shields and Moore, and as you can see, such deals have worked out well for the team relative to the going market rate per win (roughly $5 million):

PitcherContractService IPERAWAR$Spent$/Win
Shields4 yrs/$11.25M (2008-11) + 2012-14 C/O1.1251115.03.7912.116.75M1.38M
Price6 yrs/$8.5M (2007-12)0.000786.33.1615.811.35M0.72M
Davis4 yrs/$12.6M (2011-14) + 2015-17 C/O1.032254.33.891.12.5M2.27M
Moore5 yrs/$14M (2012-16) + 2017-19 C/O0.017327.73.574.02.5M0.63M
Archer6 yrs/$25.5M (2014-19) + 2020-21 C/O0.156

All dollar figures are in millions, and all salary information for the deals besides Archer's comes from Cots Contracts. That table shows what the Rays have reaped in the years covered by those deals (not before), with the dollar figures adjusted to account for escalators, options exercised, and other contract provisions. Unlike the rest of the group, Price was on a deal signed at the time he was drafted as the first overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2007; if he attained arbitration eligibility, he was allowed to void the remainder of the deal in favor of higher salaries. He did, bumping his 2012 salary from $1.5 million to $4.35 million; for that, he turned in a Cy Young-winning campaign, and since then has gone year-to-year.

The Rays exercised Shields' 2013 option ($10.25 million) before trading him to the Royals in the Myers deal; he's still under the terms of that contract, which will wind up paying him a total of $38.75 million. Davis, traded to Kansas City as part of the same package, is still on his deal as well. That one hasn't panned out as well as the rest as he's pitched his way to the bullpen, but he's still relatively inexpensive. The cost certainty of those deals was a big factor in helping them steal Myers, Baseball America's Minor League Player of the year, from the Royals.

Archer's contract contains the largest amount of guaranteed money as well as the highest total if both options are exercised. By comparison, Moore's deal could run a total of eight years for $37.5 million if all three options are exercised, with another $2.25 million in escalator clauses possible based on innings and starts. The difference between those two deals owes mainly to service time; Archer is on track to become a Super Two in terms of arbitration eligibility following the 2015 season, whereas Moore would have had to wait until after his third full season. Archer's $25.5 million guarantee is based upon that, so his deal could be lower if he's forced back to the minors for some reason aside from an injury rehab assignment. Even if he endures some hiccups, the contract is still likely to be a solid win in terms of bang for the buck, and it protects the pitcher in case injuries send him to the danger zone.

The Rays have yet to do similar extensions with Jeremy Hellickson or Alex Cobb; the former's career is in the weeds after a 5.17 ERA and arthroscopic elbow surgery, but he still has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, while the latter will be eligible for the first time after this season. Jake Odorizzi, who is taking Hellickson's spot to start the year, is another candidate for such an extension, though with just 42 days of major league service under his belt coming into this season, there's no rush on him.

Beyond the pitching staff, the extension candidate to keep an eye on is Myers, who hit .293/.354/.478 with 13 homers in 88 games en route to Rookie of the Year honors last season and is off to a 4-for-9 start this year. With only 104 days of service time coming into the season, he won't reach Super Two status, but if history holds — see the Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist deals for precedent among the Rays' position players — he'll be under contract by the time that matters. In the meantime, expect Archer and Moore to continue showing the wisdom of such deals as a strategy for helping the small-market Rays run with the big dogs in the AL East.

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