Let ‘em Go: The Case for Not Extending Jake Arrieta

Pose the question in September 2015, and it’s a laughable one. Jake Arrieta’s long-term status was not in question at that point, and even into the 2016 season, he remained entrenched in the future plans as far as Cubs fans were concerned.

But his slightly wobbly regular season—he put together quality numbers on the whole, but showed real signs of mortality—and his advancing age have perhaps unfairly cast a shadow over Arrieta’s pitching career beyond the upcoming season.

Though Phil Rogers of compellingly argues the case that Arrieta does deserve an extension from the Cubs in spite of these things, that’s just not the case. The thrust of Rogers’s argument is that Arrieta would fill the need the Cubs have had for a controllable starter and that assuming he can be replaced is dangerous water to tread.

And that’s probably somewhat true. It is known that the Cubs are in the market for controllable starters, though preferably of the younger variety than Arrieta, and have been for a few years now. It is known that the Cubs will have gaps to fill in their rotation after the 2017 season. And, in many ways, Arrieta could fill one of those gaps rather nicely.

The problem is that, as a Scott Boras client and as a recent Cy Young winner, Arrieta’s price tag is going to be hefty. Rogers acknowledged this and said that he would go as high as seven years and $200 million if it came to it. Thankfully, Rogers is not in charge of the Cubs’ payroll.

By presumably approaching Arrieta’s free agency prepared to let him leave, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are making the right decision. First, the aforementioned contract size—both in dollars and years—would be potentially prohibitive for a team that will be looking to retain the offensive core just a few years from now. And the market for any free agent past 30, especially pitchers, is not as inviting as it used to be. Rogers would counter with examples like Kevin Brown and Max Scherzer, but there is a much longer list of pitchers past 30 whose contracts have proven to be an albatross for their respective clubs.

Even tossing those concerns aside, some of Arrieta’s numbers in 2016 are reason enough. Simply stacking 2015 against 2016 would be unfair to any pitcher, but his WARP was cut in half, from 6 to 3, and his 4.6 WARP in 2014 was still notably higher than last season. Pick any measure from 2016 and it is worse than 2015, but they’re almost all worse than 2014, too.

IP oppTAv BB/9 K/9 DRA
2014 156.7 .254 2.4 9.6 2.42
2016 197.3 .264 3.5 8.7 4.02

Even a cursory look at Brooks Baseball shows a slight drop off in his velocity in 2016 compared to 2014, and it becomes an even bigger dip when compared to his 2015 season.

This admittedly might not prove anything, but given his age, it’s not unreasonable to think that his trajectory is simply heading downward. Yes, he is an Adonis, but even physical specimens featured in ESPN’s body issue wear down after a while. His effectiveness as a pitcher depends greatly on his strength and his ability to stay consistent in his delivery, and as he gets older, that does not get easier.

Finally, though the Cubs would struggle to replace him now, that does not mean they will in the future. The free agent class for starting pitching this winter is paltry, but in biding their time until the winter before the 2018 season, the Cubs are setting themselves up for the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Yu Darvish, Johnny Cueto (if he opts out), or even Francisco Liriano or Masahiro Tanaka.

It is never wise to pin many hopes on pitching prospects, and the Cubs don’t have many who will be major league ready in the near future, so they will need to build a rotation beyond 2017 through trades or acquisitions. It is possible that Arrieta might justify a new contract from the Cubs this year, but now is not the time to extend him—not before he has pitched an inning of the 2017 season.

Like Dexter Fowler before him, Arrieta’s free agency needs to happen, regardless of how Rogers or the fans might feel. The Cubs are thriving now because of maximizing the value of their roster, and a part of that means letting players like Fowler and Arrieta go before their cost too greatly outweighs their performance.

In the short term, the Cubs have at least one more year of one of the best non-ace starters in baseball, and beyond that, letting him ride off into free agency is a shrewd move for the long-term benefit of the club.

Lead photo courtesy Ken Blaze—USA Today Sports

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15 comments on “Let ‘em Go: The Case for Not Extending Jake Arrieta”

The CHI Sports Fan (@TheCHISportsFan)

This is why we have prospects. To find controllable pitching. When you remove the first 2 (somewhat spectacular) months from Jakes’ 2016 season, the concern becomes sharper IMO.

I’ve been curious since the end of 2015 to see if he could retain his athleticism based performance. He announced he was plant and “lean meat” protein oriented which flies in the face of all new sports science (and medical) research. (Healthy fats may increase duration and strength by substantial amounts – see the CEREAL KILLERS movies)

I am confident that the Cubs have a way to identify consistency (ala Lester) and bargain the right pieces at the right time, or to spend the big bucks when the Cueto’s become available…

Matt LaCasse

I tend to agree with you. I don’t see a reason to extend him before 2017 or to pursue him in FA come next winter. There will simply be better options at similar prices available. Period.

Kent Hunter

Who are those better pitchers with similar contract demands? I can’t find any. Except for MadBum, none of the other pitchers mentioned here are “better”. Could they be? Sure, but they are as big of risk as Jake. I do think that if a deal isn’t worked out now, then no matter what he does during 2017 he won’t be back.


We have ZERO SP prospects that have advanced even as low as AA. Do NOT believe anyone about Underwood or Johnson, just look at their numbers for yourself. Ditto guys at the lower levels, including Sands and De La Cruz.

Best chances are the almost-never-talked about Clifton (A+ last yr) and Cease (A). But they are both at least 3 yrs away from even debuting–let alone succeeding.

Arrieta not an ace? I suppose you believe Lester is. Those two are evenly matched as pitchers–except Arrieta is a far greater hitter and fielder. Oh, and he won a Cy.

Anyone OK when the Cubs gave 6/$155MM to Lester should be at least as enthusiastic for the Cubs to offer the same to Jake–or more.

Wesley Farmer

Lester was better than Arietta last year and it really wasn’t close. Hendricks was too.


So should we pretend 2015 never happened for Jake, Hendricks or Lester?

Over the past 2 yrs, Jake has them beat across the board.

Cubs took a chance on wrong-side-of-30, 3.58 life ERA Lester. So far, that has paid off. I’d also like to take a chance on a better pitcher/hitter/fielder/athlete named Jake.


And if you want to ignore Jake’s 2015 on the aberration basis, please do the same for Lester.

Lester just had his best season ever (W, ERA, WHIP, OPS, FIP, and what may demonstrate the flukiness best of all, BABIP).


Of course the Cubs disagree with you. That’s why they are negotiating. Of course, negotiating doesn’t mean they will sign him. but they are not going to just let him walk without trying to sign him.

Christopher Hunt

The problem in the past was that Rogers and the fans seemed to be in charge of the Cubs payroll. That’s how we got Carlos Zambrano for $85 million. Paying players based on their perceived value is a losing proposition. Paying players for an anomalous past performance is also a losing proposition. I’m still learning this, and I’ve been a fan for 40 years.

I agree with this article, but I also agree with those who suggest a contract similar to the one the Cubs gave Lester. Lester was younger when he received that contract, so it could be argued that Jake is worth even less when considering how consistently good Lester has been.

But if Jake is willing to take the security of 6-year, $150 million contract before the year starts, I’d sign up for that. I doubt he would and the Cubs may be offering less so I’d expect this to go to free agency where I think it’d be much more likely that he could return than it was for Dexter.

Kent Hunter

When trying to make an objective decision to improve the team, sometimes you create a negative bias. By that I mean, why are Phil Rogers, Dexter Fowler, Cy Young or Scott Boras mentioned? OK, maybe Scott has a little to do with it, but I think that is role is exaggerated. By mentioning these other names trying to eliminate emotion, you may have unknowingly created that negative bias. SO keeping the focus on metrics I don’t think Arrieta should be compared to himself as much as he should be compared to others. Certainly metrics are nothing more than history, but if you’re going to say Jake’s last 3 years WARP has been 4.6, 6.0, and 3.0; then we should look at comps. Lester’s 3 years at the same age were 4.3, 3.4, and 6.6 followed by 5.4 and 5.3 the last two years with the Cubs. No reason to think jake can’t duplicate that. Darvish is 7.5, 4.2, and 3.2 why would he be an option over Jake? OK, I’ll take MadBum, but after that there aren’t really any pitchers that are any more of a gamble than Jake. Cueto the last 3 years WARP 6.8, 3.4, 4.6. So then it comes down to the contract. Of course it isn’t our money, only the Cubs can put a real value on Arrieta. But unlike other sports there is no cap, sure a penalty for exceeding the payroll max exists, but there is no cap. IMO, letting Jake go after 2017 decreases the chances of winning another World Series when the team is arguably at it’s peak. Again, it’s all about risk management. One last comment regarding Jake’s declining velocity. I’d be curious to see if his velocity has declined when he’s ahead or even in the count versus behind. We all know his command was the biggest issue and when a pitcher loses a bit of confidence due to command, he likely guides the ball and takes a little off. I would bet the loss of velocity is due more to his decline in command in 2016 being behind in the count more, versus any physical issue. Whether they sign him or not will likely have more to do with what Jake demands. But I think the Cubs would not have any problem signing him for more than 5 years, knowing that 2018 to 2021 when he’s just 32-35 would be well worth market value and provide a more stable chance of winning more rings.


We comp Jake with Jake because no one else has Jake’s complicated delivery. This isn’t just about ageing curves for WAR.

Kent Hunter

My point was if you’re going to say Jake’s WARP is declining as well as other metrics, his “bad” WARP is still above 3. Many pitchers (as I mentioned) have had seasons with below “their average” metrics and return to 5+ WARP. As for delivery, Jake’s is not as complex as people want to think. Several pitchers throw across their body, like MadBum and Sale. Every pitcher has their own set of mechanics they need to repeat. Jake’s are not so unique; simple set up, small rocker step, average knee lift…. His step toward 3rd and throwing across his body isn’t that different than the two guys I mentioned and why all three are successful.

Jared Wyllys

Hi Kent, thanks for reading.

I’m not sure I understand why you think Boras’ role has been exaggerated. He’s Arrieta’s agent, and a big piece of the puzzle in whatever contract he ends up getting.

As for Phil Rogers, this piece is in response to something Rogers wrote very recently. Take a look at the embedded link.

Cy Young is referenced because Arrieta won the Cy Young Award.

Dexter Fowler is referenced because letting him walk this offseason is a very similar situation to what will probably happen with Arrieta next winter.

So I’m not sure how any of these create negative bias. They are all relevant, in one way or another, to the situation.

Again, thanks for reading.

Kent Hunter

What the Cubs do will have nothing to do with Phil’s article, your article, or my opinion. A true objective thought shouldn’t have anything to do with someone else’s analysis or opinion. And while Dexter’s situation might be considered similar, it to should have nothing to do with whether the Cubs sign Jake or not. The Cy Young is a nice award, but I sure hope the Cubs don’t make their decisions on whether their players do or don’t win arbitrary awards. I did concede Boras is a “piece to the puzzle”, I just don’t think it is as “big” as others might think. Look at the Strasburg deal as an example of that. I was just trying to point out that you could have easily made an argument to let Jake go without mentioning Phil, Scott, Dex, or CY, no? And in my opinion, by mentioning them, they create a level of bias. Very much enjoyed the article even though I don’t agree with your final assessment. A thought regarding the money. While it isn’t mine of course, a bad financial decision won’t prohibit anything. After all Theo and Jed gave Edwin Jackson $15 million to go away. I think the argument should be based solely on whether or not you think Jake is the best option the next 4 years. If you don’t think he’s the best option, no problem. If you do, then sign him, even if you have to sign him for 6 or 7 years.

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