The Pirates are going for a run at the playoffs. On Tuesday, they made the moves to back that up.
After an 11-game winning streak as part of an excellent July, Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington switched from his previously stated "reality" to genuine optimism for a postseason run. There's good reason for that, despite the offseason departures of star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole: Pittsburgh has athleticism, youth and plenty of momentum on its side. And most importantly, the Pirates are just 3.5 games out of the second NL Wild Card spot.
The Pirates addressed both their areas of need on Tuesday, solidifying the bullpen with the addition of Rangers closer Keone Kela and then landing what may be the most seismic deal of deadline day, adding longtime Rays ace Chris Archer.
Archer has pitched to a pedestrian (for him) 4.31 ERA and 3-5 record, but he hasn't had the kind of offensive support he can expect in Pittsburgh, and he's been pitching against American League lineups.
As for Kela, the Seattle native has been better than his statistics indicate. He's earned 24 saves despite a 3.44 ERA and 3-3 record. He has spent his entire career in Texas, but still has two more arbitration-eligible seasons before he will become an unrestricted free agent. As a controllable asset, he was clearly more attractive to Huntington than many of the other relief options on the market.
Archer's contract provides even more stability, with a $7.5 million salary in 2019 followed by two team options at a rate of $8.25 million; he is earning $6.25 million in 2018. Archer's contract is so palatable that it is almost unthinkable that he would pass through waivers in August, making a deal for Archer essential on deadline day.
The idea that the Pirates would be among the most aggressive suitors on the trade market on deadline day would have seemed a far fetched idea weeks ago. On July 8, The Athletic's Rob Biertempfel wrote that Huntington was already sizing up which Pittsburgh pieces might be most attractive to other teams.
"The optimism has turned to realism," Huntington said at that time.
Instead, the Pirates made a real sacrifice to land Archer in an attempt to win now and also maintain sustainable competitiveness in the future. The Rays were sent outfielder Austin Meadows, currently at Triple-A Indianapolis but expected to be a Pirates regular earlier in the season. Tampa also received Tyler Glasnow, who projects as a future starter but has spent the season in Pittsburgh's bullpen.
The final day moves may not be enough to propel the Pirates into a wild card spot. But even if they don't, Pittsburgh added a pair of controllable arms that help them now and later. Few would have expected them to do just that until it happened in front of everyone's eyes.