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Did Bucs already make biggest moves for '19?

Archer, Kela might be Pirates' splashiest deals for next season
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers made their big splash last offseason, swiftly scooping up Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain then riding their success to a National League Central title. Like Milwaukee a year ago, the Cardinals put the division on notice Wednesday with their trade for All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

What about the Pirates? They'll continue to explore the market for upgrades, particularly in the infield and bullpen. But it's more likely that they've already made their biggest additions for next season -- not Jung Ho Kang or Lonnie Chisenhall, but Chris Archer and Keone Kela.

PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers made their big splash last offseason, swiftly scooping up Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain then riding their success to a National League Central title. Like Milwaukee a year ago, the Cardinals put the division on notice Wednesday with their trade for All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

What about the Pirates? They'll continue to explore the market for upgrades, particularly in the infield and bullpen. But it's more likely that they've already made their biggest additions for next season -- not Jung Ho Kang or Lonnie Chisenhall, but Chris Archer and Keone Kela.

The Pirates parted with former top prospects Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows along with 2017 first-round Draft pick Shane Baz to get Archer. They sent hard-throwing prospect Taylor Hearn and 19-year-old infielder Sherten Apostel to Texas for Kela. Those Trade Deadline deals were deemed out of character for general manager Neal Huntington and his front office, and it's difficult to foresee a similarly splashy move this winter.

"We went for it aggressively this summer," Huntington said last month on KDKA-FM. "We felt that that was the ability to impact our '19 and '20 clubs as well by making an aggressive move in the summer time. We felt that that was the one access point we would have to talent at that level."

Hot Stove Tracker

Archer will spend a full season in Pittsburgh's rotation next year, and his contract includes club options for 2020 and '21. Kela, who is under club control for two more seasons, will work high-leverage innings as a setup man for closer Felipe Vazquez. In a way, Archer and Kela wound up replacing two young pitchers who underwent Tommy John surgery late in the year: starter Chad Kuhl and reliever Edgar Santana.

Video: Archer happy to call Pittsburgh his new home

"We went and got what we believe to be one of the best starting pitchers in the game, one of the best relievers in the game," Huntington said in the KDKA-FM interview. "We gave up a lot in return, but in doing so, we felt like we made our '18 club stronger as well as our '19, '20 and, in Chris' case, our '21 clubs stronger."

Kela was immediately effective, posting a 2.93 ERA and 0.98 WHIP with 22 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings before the Pirates shut him down in early September. Over the last two years, the 25-year-old put together a 3.08 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 93 appearances.

Video: PIT@MIL: Kela gets key strikeout to end threat

But what can they expect from Archer after paying such a high price to get him?

Archer had a rough first month in Pittsburgh and ended the year with a pedestrian 4.31 ERA, but he finished strong in September. In his last five starts, Archer posted a 2.70 ERA with 36 strikeouts, 23 hits allowed and nine walks in 30 innings despite pitching through a left groin strain.

Archer attributed his success to catcher Francisco Cervelli, who was behind the plate for nine of his 10 starts with the Pirates. After working with four different catchers over four months with Tampa Bay, Archer asked manager Clint Hurdle for some stability behind the plate. Before his Sept. 1 start in Atlanta, Archer decided he was going to trust Cervelli's game plan and just focus on making pitches.

"Everything started to shift when I stopped shaking Cervy. It's him knowing the hitters, knowing the league," Archer said after his final start of 2018. "It also allows me to not have to think too much. Just go with what he puts down. The month of September, I've been doing that, and I've been pitching much more like myself."

His slider remained a dominant pitch, and opponents had a harder time hitting his four-seam fastball and changeup along with the two-seamer and curveball he reintroduced last season.

Archer had surgery last week to repair a bilateral hernia, but the way he finished the season gives the Pirates hope heading into next year -- even if they don't follow up their unexpected summer splash with another one this winter.

"We feel that September Chris Archer is the guy we're excited about," Huntington said in September. "The next three years, he's going to help us compete to win a World Series."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Archer, Keone Kela