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Game 135: Twins at Rays

Chris Archer will open, followed by Chris Swordsman and Chris Spear-wielder.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Workouts Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

First Pitch: 3:05 pm CDT

TV: Bally Sports North

Radio: WCCO 830 / The Wolf 102.9 FM / Audacy / TIBN

Today’s theme is “homecoming,” and each starting pitcher arrives to that designation in a different way.

On the one hand, we have Andrew Albers, who has logged five major-league seasons over an eight-year period. After debuting with the organization in 2013, it was rather amusing when he reappeared for a few spot outings during our Total System Failure. And even more amusing still that, in the midst of another unexpected total collapse, here is again — this time 35 years old and certainly much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

Perhaps Andrew Albers has some Rich Hill-esque renaissance buried somewhere within that makeup, but odds are that his 0.96 ERA just isn’t going to hold up in the long-term. In terms of reclamation projects from the Ron Gardenhire era, I think that’s a battle that Caleb Thielbar is going to win.

On the other side of this coin is Chris Archer, whose career trajectory has produced some amusing transaction trees. Archer debuted even before Albers did, kicking off his career with Tampa Bay in 2012, and finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year voting by the next season. His initial St. Petersburg tenure would produce two All-Star appearances and a 9-19 record during a season in which he had a league-average ERA+.

Archer is perhaps most notable for the 2018 trade which sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now, these aren’t your grandpa’s Pittsburgh Pirates - most certainly not, because 2018 was only about three years ago. So, maybe they’re your slightly-older brother’s Pittsburgh Pirates.

But these aren’t your slightly-older brother’s Pittsburgh Pirates, either! The mid-10s Pirates were routinely throwing up high-90s win totals and routinely losing Wild Card Games. They middled through ‘16 and ‘17 while the Chicago Cubs took over, then middled around a bit through 2018 before rattling off a double-digit winning streak in July.

Drunk with power, they swung a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, bringing in Chris Archer in exchange for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and a PTBNL (who wound up being Shane Baz.) Now, if you weren’t familiar with this trade, the fact that you probably recognize 23 of those names might indicate to you that this trade wound up proving pretty significant.

Well, Tyler Glasnow now has a 2.80 ERA over the last three seasons. Austin Meadows made the All-Star Game during his first campaign with the Rays, corking 60 homers and running a 127 OPS+ since changing uniforms. And the player to be named later? Well, Shane Baz has a 2.11 ERA across the two highest minor-league levels this season, with a combined 8.58 K/BB ratio and 0.81 WHIP.

To add insult to injury, Archer had a 5.19 ERA in his only full season with Pittsburgh, underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, then had his option declined by the Pirates. And now he’s back with the team that swindled him off to the north in the first place, while the Pirates missed the postseason entirely in 2018 and have been completely irrelevant since.

It hasn’t been a dazzling comeback for Archer, who has barely crossed 10 innings after spending most of the season on the 60-day IL, but it’s a fun trade to revisit. For a while I felt like I was hearing so much about how lopsided the trade was, that it all became a bit overblown in my head. But when you really dig into it, it’s hard not to chalk this one up — yet again — to the Tampa Bay front office, who sent a pitcher away to underperform for a non-rival, received three nifty prospects in return, and wound up bringing their guy back anyway.

Honestly, it’d be a bit like if we re-signed A.J. Pierzynski in 2005. Plus, then he never would have won a World Series! It would have been win-win-win.