Archer ready to be 'part of the fun' with Rays

February 10th, 2021

About a week after the Rays lost Game 6 of the World Series, heard from his former team. General manager Erik Neander reached out to Archer’s agent and personally to the veteran right-hander, a first-time free agent. After catching up and checking in on Archer’s health, Neander promised they’d be in touch.

A return to the Rays appealed to Archer for several reasons, as he explained on Tuesday after officially signing his one-year, $6.5 million deal to seal the reunion.

“You guys see the smile on my face,” Archer said during a Zoom press conference. “It’s as genuine, pure and sincere as it possibly can be."

He’ll be back in a familiar environment, playing alongside former teammates -- he specifically mentioned Willy Adames and Kevin Kiermaier, “the best center fielder in the league” -- and young players he saw on their way up before he was traded to the Pirates on July 31, 2018. He even mentioned that he’s excited to see pitching prospect Shane Baz, the player to be named later in the lopsided deal that also brought Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows to Tampa Bay.

He’ll get to work with Tampa Bay’s front office and pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who’s already talked with Archer about maximizing his strengths by getting back to what made him successful during his early years with the Rays.

And Archer hopes he’ll get to settle some unfinished business. The last time the Rays finished the season with a winning record and Archer on their roster was 2013. While he was a mainstay in their rotation from 2014-17, posting a 3.66 ERA and throwing 200 innings per year, the team averaged 76 wins per season and topped out at 80. They took off after that, reaching the postseason in 2019 before winning the American League last year.

In their conversations, Neander said he could tell Archer was intrigued by the opportunity to get a second chance at success with the Rays and “really cement his legacy” here. Archer said as much, too.

“Seeing the things they’ve done the last two years really, really excited me. The No. 1 thing I wanted to do was play for a contender, play for a contender in a really strong division and play somewhere that would give me the best opportunity to be me and do me,” Archer said. “Tampa checks all those boxes.

“From a legacy standpoint, I want to be a part of a winning culture. I was part of a .500 culture whenever I was there. So being a part of the winning culture definitely was a big reason for my interest in going back to Tampa.”

Archer said he knew the Rays’ interest was serious based on their first offer. There are minor incentives in his final deal, with MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reporting Archer can add $150,000 to his earnings by winning the AL Cy Young Award, but the primary incentive for both sides is winning.  

Archer said it was “really awesome to watch” the Rays’ postseason run last year. He doesn’t want to watch another team storm through October this year. 

“I want to be a part of the fun. I want to be a part of the magic,” Archer said. “I’m really looking forward to getting in the locker room. I know what the goal is. When I was there in the past, we had different goals. But there’s only one goal, to win those two last games of the season. So, I can’t wait to be a part of that.”

Amid all the good feelings, there were some important questions to answer. Archer is coming off a season lost to thoracic outlet syndrome, which required a significant operation that’s derailed some pitchers’ careers. And he posted a 4.92 ERA over 33 starts in his disappointing stint with Pittsburgh.  

What can the Rays realistically expect out of him this time around? 

Neander said the Rays anticipate the 32-year-old will be “full-go” come Opening Day, and the club believes strongly that Archer will bounce back based on his athleticism and the work he’s always put into taking care of his body. The Rays are clearly comfortable with his health, considering they guaranteed him $6.5 million, but they will monitor his status throughout the season. 

“We’ll put on him whatever we can. We’ve just got to make sure we’re responsible. It’s hard to suggest exactly where that will be,” Neander said. “It’s not going to be 200 innings. That’d be great, but I don’t think that’s what we’re penciling in at this point.” 

Archer said he consulted with Alex Cobb and Nick Burdi, former teammates who came back from TOS, before he had surgery last year. He started throwing earlier than usual this offseason, said he’s feeling stronger than ever and noted that he’s now “totally healthy.” 

“In my opinion, that’s all behind me,” he added. “Throwing with no issues, pain in my neck or shoulder was awesome. It’s going to be nice to be on the mound for the first time in a long time without thinking or dealing with ailments, without going through extreme measures just to be on the mound.” 

Better health would go a long way for Archer, who battled several other injuries with the Pirates. He also battled himself, noting “some failed experiments” in an attempt to diversify his pitch mix. After trying to expand his arsenal in 2018 and the first half of the ’19 season, Archer is permanently shelving his sinker – “There will be zero two-seam fastballs attempted by me,” he said -- and leaning on his most trusted weapons: his four-seam fastball, wipeout slider and an improving changeup. 

“Mainly just get back to being myself, because I got away from that based off the injuries and not really using my stuff properly,” Archer said. “I tried some new things and learned that they didn’t work and getting back to me, what made me great those years that I was in Tampa.”