Amongst the tributes and Twitter videos, of which I certainly haven’t watched all or anything, I suppose at some point some people would ask if the Cubs saw the market developing this way. With Arrieta finally signing two weeks int march for only three years, Lance Lynn nabbing a mere one-year deal, and Alex Cobb still unsigned, do the Cubs regret any of their moves? Would they have brought Jake Arrieta back instead of Tyler Chatwood? The question is never that simple. Nothing in life is.
It’s a bit pointless. We know that the Cubs signed Chatwood out of the box, in the first week of December. At that point, Arrieta and Scott Boras were still very much convinced they would get the Monty Python Foot contract, some seven or eight years and approaching $200 million if not eclipsing it. Maybe that was never in the cards, but it certainly was their starting point. So if the Cubs had approached then with a three-year deal with an opt-out after two and two option years (essentially), Boras would have released whatever hounds he had at his disposal.
Then it comes to whether the Cubs would have offered this deal over the one to which they signed Yu Darvish. And really, that’s not much of a debate. It’s kind of the same contract, with an opt-out after two years but guaranteed for five after that instead of some swapping between team and player.
Darvish and Arrieta are a slightly awkward comparison: when Arrieta was eating the Earth in 2015, Darvish was missing the whole season with elbow surgery. The past two seasons though, Darvish has the better DRA and DRA-, and the better WARP. To me they’re kind of a push, but Darvish’s slightly better strikeout numbers and slightly more consistent walk-numbers have him just barely shade it. I don’t even know if you could see the difference without a microscope, and seeing as how they’re basically on the same contract, you can’t argue here.
And again, when the Cubs signed Darvish just before spring training, we still don’t know what Arrieta was asking for. He might still have been asking for six or seven years. Less likely, but possible. Darvish has been the less volatile pitcher—in both directions—so he was the somewhat safer bet.
If we were to live in a vacuum (I’m not sure that would really be that pleasant), of course you’d say you’d rather have Arrieta over Chatwood. And maybe at the last moment the Cubs could have moved Chatwood to the pen and signed Arrieta to the same deal that he got in Philly. That’s assuming they wanted to, which I’m not convinced they did. Still, that would have pushed the Cubs over the luxury tax threshold, and that’s something they’ve said they wanted to avoid this year and next year as well, incurring the repeater penalties.
Another $25 million on the payroll also pretty much caps them from going after a piece in next year’s sexy free agent class, whether that’s Harper as we’ve always been told or somehow Machado or whatever. So with that, trying to rope in Jake at the last minute wouldn’t have worked.
There’s very little chance that Chatwood ends up being as effective as Arrieta, and that’s if Arrieta’s wayward path continues where he can’t figure out his motion and his cutter/slider/whatever-we’re-calling-it-today can’t be roped in effectively. He’s probably going to give up more homers in Philadelphia, simply because it’s about 148 feet to the left field gap there. But given the flexibility the Cubs will still have this year and next and down the road, there’s little to suggest that this didn’t work out exactly as it should have.
Lead photo courtesy Rick Scuteri—USA Today Sports