Jason Mackey: The (unfortunate) reality of Chris Archer's Pirates future

By Jason Mackey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Baseball

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates aren't expected to make a final decision on whether or not to pick up Chris Archer's $11 million option for 2021 until close to the 5 p.m. deadline on Sunday. The reason: General manager Ben Cherington plans on taking every available second to survey the playing field.

In the meantime, however, some stuff around Major League Baseball has happened, and the established precedent here doesn't look great for anyone who might've purchased an Archer jersey back in July 2018, when the Pirates acquired the right-handed pitcher from the Tampa Bay Rays for ... OK, we don't need to get into that here.

But as far as that precedent, yeah, it's real. And it's not spectacular. As you might expect, it's tied to the lack of gate revenue in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At best, those missing dollars are forcing teams to re-examine how rosters are constructed. At worst, the losses coupled with an uncertain landscape for 2021 could threaten to quell spending for those on the bottom end of the financial spectrum.

To break down the decision Cherington and the Pirates are facing — pick up the option or buy out the 32-year-old for $250,000 — let's begin with what has recently happened:

— The Indians on Thursday placed closer Brad Hand on outright waivers. Cleveland's hope is that somebody will claim Hand, and that team can pay his $10 million club option for 2021. If he goes unclaimed, the Indians would say aloha to Mr. Hand for $1 million.


The move came as a surprise because Hand had a 2.05 ERA in 2020 and led the American League with 16 saves. But the Indians, who had the 24th-lowest payroll in MLB this past season, apparently need to cut costs.

— The Nationals, who had the eighth-largest payroll in 2020, recently severed ties with Adam Eaton, Anibal Sanchez, Eric Thames and Howie Kendrick, declining options for a quartet of heroes from their World Series-winning team in 2019.

Eaton played 151 games that season and slashed .279/.365/.428 with 15 home runs, 25 doubles, seven triples and 15 steals. From 2014-19, Eaton had a batting lien of .289/.367/.423. But he also struggled in 2020, and $10.5 million isn't anything to sneeze at, even for the big spenders.

— The St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday declined their $12.5 million option on Gold Glove winner Kolten Wong, a move president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters was at least partially tied to the lack of recent revenue and uncertainty ahead.


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