ST. PETERSBURG — There was a moment during Wednesday's press conference to announce his big contract when Chris Archer grew uncharacteristically silent, when his eyes watered, when he began to talk, stopped, began again, stopped again.
It happened when Archer was asked to reflect on his journey, the one that began in middle school when he was cut from the 7th grade team, continued to high school when he was told by a college coach he would never play major Division I college baseball and included two trades before he reached the Tampa Bay Rays. Wednesday, Archer became the latest in a long line of young Rays to sign a lucrative long-term deal -- six years with $25.5 million guaranteed and a pair of options years that could bring the total worth to $43.75 million.
“I think the way I'd like to describe it is … for any kid out there who has been told he can't do something … I'm living proof that you can,” Archer said.
Archer, who makes his first start of the season tonight against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, traded his arbitration years and the first two years of free agency if the options are picked up for the security of a guaranteed deal. Archer said he had great counsel during the past month while negotiating the deal with the Rays. He said their advice was this:
“To never turn your back on your first fortune. At the end of the contract there's still room to sign another deal, another extension, whatever it may be. For me, from where I come from, this is more than I could ever ask for, to be honest.”
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said it became evident during the years since Archer joined the team before the 2011 in a trade with the Chicago Cubs that the 25-year-old right hander fit the criteria of a player the Rays wanted around for a while -- strong work ethic, strong determination, strong character.
“I don't think it was a seminal moment as much as we've got kind of an extensive check-list of things that are important to us before we guarantee someone a significant kind of money,” Friedman said. “Over the course of the three years we've had him installed a lot of confidence in us that he possessed a lot of traits that were important to us.”
The contract talks began in spring training when Friedman approached Archer in the lunch room at Charlotte Sports Park and said, “Hey, let's catch up. Can I get a couple of minutes of your time?”
Archer said he assumed Friedman wanted to talk baseball. Maybe discus how Archer uses one of his pitches. They eventually got together days later. Friedman asked Archer if he was interested in a long-term deal.
“He asked me if I was open to it, and without a doubt I was, obviously, and I am,” Archer said. “I wasn't surprised, but the timing of it I was a little off guard.”
Archer takes his place among Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Evan Longoria, Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist and Matt Moore as Rays who gave up the potential of more lucrative arbitration and free agent deals for the peace of mind that comes with guaranteed money.
Archer said he weighed everything -- the amount of the money, the length of the contract, remaining with the organization that developed him into a major league pitcher well as the recent injuries suffered by pitchers -- Tommy John surgeries, facial fractures and concussions caused by line drives to the head.
“I really believe in Divine synchronicities,” Archer said. “I look around and learn and soak in everything.”
It all came together Saturday when the two sides agreed on the deal. Now Archer can provide for himself and his family.
And continue to improve upon his journey. Looking back Wednesday on where he began, Archer said was happy for their road blocks.
“I'm honestly thankful for those two situations,” he said, “because I would not be here with out them. It helped me realize you can't accept other people's realities as yours. That's how I know that's true.”