DENVER — As the Cubs search for a big-time pitcher to front their rotation, they’ll get an up-close look at one that got away.
While all the focus will be on Javier Baez debuting at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon, Chris Archer played out the same scenario in his mind. Except Archer’s first start at Clark and Addison will be in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform.
“I’m a big visualization person,” Archer said. “I saw myself in Wrigley, and then I started to visualize myself in Tropicana Field. So, yeah, it was constantly on my mind. If it’s not, I don’t think you can make it here.”
Archer is a made man now, with a six-year extension that guaranteed $25.5 million and could be worth almost $44 million. He rocks a distinctive look — high pants, striped stirrups. He has more than 26,000 followers on Twitter, where he recommends books and shares inspirational quotes.
A few weeks after signing that contract, Archer looked back when the Rays came to the South Side. The Cubs acquired Archer from the Cleveland Indians in the Mark DeRosa deal on New Year’s Eve 2008, watching him develop into the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2010.
Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry thought it could be a win-now and win-later move in 2011, trading for Matt Garza’s three seasons of club control in an eight-player deal that included Archer. That decision was said to bother chairman Tom Ricketts, who fired Hendry months later.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein traded Garza to the Texas Rangers last summer, getting third baseman Mike Olt and pitchers C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez for a rental player.
“It’s all a matter of perspective,” Archer said. “It could all, in the end, 10 years from now even out. It’s all a matter of perspective on who you think got the best return at this moment.”
Archer (7-6, 3.42 ERA) is 25 years old and firmly established in a Tampa Bay rotation moving on without Cy Young Award winner David Price, who just got traded to the Detroit Tigers in another arbitrage transaction.
Led by free-spirited manager Joe Maddon, the small-market Rays (55-59) are still trying to hang around in the race after winning at least 90 games in each of the last four years and going to the 2008 World Series.
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“It starts with their scouting,” Archer said. “The way they draft and the way they make trades is above and beyond any other team. That speaks for itself. And then when you do get here — when your skills allow you to make it to the big leagues — you can totally be yourself. You don’t have to change anything (when) you walk into this locker room.
“The openness allows you to be yourself. And I’ve said this a few times, but an organism will thrive the most when it’s in its natural habitat. So when you feel like you’re at home, you’re going to be the best you can possibly be.”
Of course, the Rays don’t have 1908 hanging over their franchise or the same baggage. It will be interesting to see what kind of breathing room Baez gets on the North Side. But Archer sounds like the kind of personality that would have handled the Wrigley Field fishbowl and thrived in Chicago.
“I don’t know,” Archer said. “I really don’t, man. I never was there and I’m here for awhile now, so it’s not even on my mind.”