Prior to the start of the 2017 season, one of the many topics of discussion revolving around the defending World Series champions was the contract situation of starter Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta, who is represented by baseball mega-agent Scott Boras, has not been able to come to terms on an agreement and has been eyeing the 2018 free agent market for quiet some time. Unfortunately for Arrieta, teams haven’t recently been willing to give out those huge deals for starting pitchers, especially ones over 30. The start to 2017 also wasn’t kind to Arrieta, as he was 8-7 with a 4.35 ERA prior to the All=Start break and had seen a drop in velocity.
Despite all of this, it’s hard to imagine Arrieta somewhere besides Chicago, not because of money, but because the fit is so right, it almost wouldn’t make sense to break it up. While Jared Wyllys made a case for not keeping Arrieta around before Spring Training here, I think it’s a conversation worth revisiting.
When Arrieta came to the Cubs from the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, he was relatively unknown. He had potential but just hadn’t been able to put it all together in Baltimore. Since 2014, Arrieta has gone 60-27 with a 2.68 ERA and has been one of the cornerstones in the Cubs’ rotation including an unforgettable Cy Young season in 2015. While that season was masterful, it has been a blessing and a curse for Arrieta. While it showcased his talent, each start he’s made since is compared to that 2015 season—fairly or not.
The fit is great for coaching reasons as well. Uniting Arrieta with pitching coach Chris Bosio helped turn the Arrieta’s career around. Being with Bosio contributed to Arrieta one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2014-2016, and he’s shown in the second half of this season that he can still get the job done at a high level. At this point in his career, would leaving the Cubs really be beneficial for him apart from the financial side? His pitching style and mechanics have always been unique and can get out of whack with the slightest change, working with another pitching coach could make correcting those mechanics much harder.
When it comes to in-house rotation options, the Cubs don’t have many. With Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks already slated to be in the Cubs’ rotation next season, there are still two spots to fill, and since there is no young prospect looking to crack the 25-man roster on the mound for a few more years, the Cubs’ will likely look to fill the void in free agency. The addition of Quintana means the Cubs won’t have to spend big on an ace and aside from Yu Darvish, who might make Theo and Jed want to crack open the checkbook. Arrieta not signing a deal a few seasons ago may have been a blessing in disguise as his value dropped significantly, but it doesn’t mean a reunion can’t be arranged.
A deal that could benefit both sides is the goal, but what would that deal actually look like? A mixture of the deal the Dodgers gave Rich Hill in’16 and deal the Giants gave Jeff Samardzija from ’15 may serve as blueprints. Hill’s deal in terms of contract length might be exactly what the Cubs’ are looking for, while the money in the Samardzija deal could lure Arrieta back to Chicago. A three-year deal between $60-70 million might do the trick. It allows Arrieta to make an AAV of $20+ million, but it also allows the Cubs to have some sense of future flexibility. He’s only 31 years old and has shown he can still get it done even with the drop in velocity.
The good news for Arrieta is that he has pitched very well in the second half going 3-3 with a 2.08 ERA in his last sixstarts. If he can maintain this level, he may be able to increase his value even more and get that four- or five-year $100 million dollar deal that he’s seemed to angling for. There’s no Max Scherzer or Zack Grienke money coming Jake’s way this offseason, and while both may have to compromise a bit, the Cubs and Jake can still come out on top.
Lead photo courtesy Jim Young—USA Today Sports