jake arrietaIf you missed it in the afternoon yesterday – and didn’t watch the game against the Reds – Carlos Villanueva is back in the bullpen for the Cubs. He was brought in as a swing man, and that’s precisely what he’s done well for the Cubs. Having a guy like that is very valuable, and I’m glad the Cubs have him for 2014, as well.

On the flip side of that move back into the bullpen for Villanueva is the man coming up to take his spot in the rotation: Jake Arrieta. The 27-year-old righty, whom the Cubs acquired from Baltimore in the Scott Feldman trade, has been throwing relatively well at Iowa (3.56 ERA, 11.6 K/9, but 1.582 WHIP) and had a nice spot-start in the July 30 doubleheader against the Brewers. He was acquired with an eye toward being a possible rotation piece in 2014, and now the Cubs will give him a six-week audition.

The stuff has always been impressive, and Arrieta was long a top prospect with the Orioles. He had trouble harnessing that stuff consistently in the bigs, and saw his ERA degrade over the years to the point where it was over 5 in 2011, over 6 in 2012, and over 7 in the early part of 2013. The peripherals and advanced stats were better than that, but we can’t ignore that the results, so far, haven’t been where you’d want them to be. He’ll get to work with pitching coach Chris Bosio, who has seemed to do incredible things for a number of Cubs pitchers, and I’m excited about the possibilities. (In his podcast appearance with Keith Law, Cubs VP of Scouting and Player Development noted, specifically, that he was very “bullish” on Arrieta.)

For his part, Dale Sveum couched the timing of the call-up in terms of Matt Guerrier going down and the Cubs needing to replace his spot in the pen, and the desire to see Chris Rusin continue to get starts.

While I think that’s legitimate, we should also note that there are service time implications in Arrieta coming up to stay now, as opposed to immediately after he was traded. Coming into the season, Arrieta had two years and 66 days of service time. If he’d spent the full year in the big leagues this year, he would have gone well over the three years required to qualify for arbitration (a “year” of service time is 172 days), and then free agency after the 2016 season. Arrieta did not spend the full year in the bigs, however, as the Orioles sent him down in late April, before calling him back up in mid-May. He was sent down a few days after that, and then called back up for a few more days in June. He was sent back down, and then traded to the Cubs.

If my counting skillz are what they were back in elementary school, I’ve got Arrieta accumulating 29 days of big league service time with the Orioles this year. That puts his total at two years and 95 days before being traded to the Cubs. Had Arrieta immediately been inserted into the rotation with the Cubs following the July 2 trade, he would have added another 89 days of service time, which would have taken him over the 172-game threshold, and he would have completed his third full year before the offseason (triggering arbitration and only three more years before free agency).

If Arrieta stays up the rest of the way starting Friday, however, he will reach only two years and 141 days of big league service time by the end of this year (an additional 45 days with the Cubs, plus adding one more day for the game on July 30th he pitched with the Cubs). That means, even if Arrieta sticks with the big club the rest of the way and then for years to come, he will not reach free agency until after 2017 (because he won’t have reached six full years of service time until then).

Arbitration is going to be a different story, however, because, with two years and 141 days of service time, Arrieta is very likely to qualify for Super Two status. That status, granted to the top 22% (in terms of service time) of players with more than two years of service time but less than three years, will send Arrieta to arbitration for the first time after this season (and then for three more go-arounds in the three years thereafter). Before the latest CBA, which bumped the cutoff to 22% from 17%, Arrieta might not have qualified for Super Two – the cutoff, historically, has been around two years and 130 to 140 days. But, if this past year’s post-CBA cutoff is any guide, Arrieta is almost certain to qualify (the cutoff was just two years and 119 days).

Had the Cubs kept Arrieta down until early September, they could have tried to avoid Super Two status. But they might believe seeing him for a longer stretch at the big league level (and having him work with the coaching staff there) is more valuable than the mere possibility of paying more money down the road. Given his up and down track record, Arrieta isn’t a lock to stay with the Cubs as a dominant starter for the next four years, so you’re a lot less worried about arbitration raises at this point. It’s nice to have ensured the extra year of control, though – just in case.

In the end, I tend to think that the timing of Arrieta’s call-up really is just about giving him enough time at the big league level for the Cubs to get a legitimate look. I think, given Arrieta’s particular situation, the Cubs probably weren’t terribly worried about the prospect of Super Two status (though it could have saved them a million or two heading into 2014, depending on how much Arrieta now makes in his first arbitration year, which will come in 2014 instead of 2015). I suspect they did like the idea of him adjusting a little bit down at Iowa after the trade, conveniently ensuring the Cubs that extra year of control (which could be enormously valuable if Arrieta finally breaks out). Generally, though, I don’t think there were a whole lot of service time games being played. Service time issues may have been a peripheral consideration in Arrieta’s path, but if they were the primary factor, we probably wouldn’t have seen him until September. As it is, he’s coming up tomorrow, and I believe the Cubs really do just want to give Arrieta a long look – which might be the most valuable decision of all.

UPDATE: A thoughtful tipster who would be in a position to know points me in the direction of an underdiscussed (indeed, I’ve never seen anyone discuss it) clause in the Super Two provision of the CBA: “In addition, a Player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if: (a) he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season; and (b)he ranks in the top 22% (rounded to the nearest whole number) in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.” (emphasis mine) By that language, Arrieta would not qualify for Super Two status, even if he would fall into that top 22% group, because he will have accumulated just 75/76 days of Major League service time this year. The timing of Arrieta’s call-up makes even more sense now, and will ensure the Cubs both an additional year of control, as well as avoiding Super Two status. It’s a bit of tough luck for Arrieta, but a savvy – and completely justifiable for non-financial reasons – move by the Cubs.

  • Teddy

    I’m really not understanding the new cba and service time. what exactly is super two statusand the rule 5 draft?

    • DarthHater
    • hansman1982

      Super Two is a way to get a few more players into the arb process. Basically, out of the 6 years a team has control over a guy, they get 4 years of arbitration (and higher pay) instead of 3.

      Rule 5 is a draft that keeps teams from stashing prospects forever without them getting MLB time.

  • Spoda17

    I’m taking a new approach… instead of [pulling] for the Cubs to lose, I am [pulling] for the Angels, White Sox, Astros, Phillies, Giants, Brewers, and Miami to win… I think Miami and Astros are out of reach, but the others are not… I am taking this approach because after this past week of games… we just stink and I need to accept it…

    • cub4life

      just some info, the Sox and Miami have the same record (5.5 games behind us). Right now we are tied with Mil for the 4th worst record in basebell………

    • CubsFaninMS

      It is clear that our offense is atrocious. Yes, atrocious is an accurate descriptor.

  • Jared

    Who is higher on the pitching coach hierarchy in the Cubs’ organization: Chris Bosio or Derek Johnson? I’d have to imagine it would be Bosio due to his position with the big league team, but I’m just curious who reports to whom.

    • hansman1982

      They are in two different chains of command with responsibilities that don’t overlap. Johnson handles the minor league pitchers and Chris handles the MLB staff.

  • BD

    This is another good article, and just continues to further explain how all of these service time rules work together.


    I am so tired of hearing about service time considerations. If a guy needs to be on the team, just put him there. If he’s good- sufficiently good to stay on the team long enough that he gets paid the big bucks at the end of arbitration/beginning of free agency- nobody will mind paying him then, even if it is one or two years earlier.

    • cub4life

      the only problem with this arument is that we could lose him to free agency a year earlier, most guys like to test the market out and we could lose him even if the numbers are the same. A prime example for this is Greg Maddux, we offered him the same money that Atl did but he left us for them.

      Now if you are talking about super 2 vs reg arb for the same amount of time I agree with you.

      • cub4life

        at least to an extent that we don’t go to far in the hole for that player.

        • Eternal Pessimist

          Yes, considering his arbitration clock is what a winning organization would do. Hope the Cubs keep this going.

      • BD

        In my hypothetical world, if you have a player that you want to keep, you have no problem keeping him. If you don’t want to pay that much for him, you trade him for a pile of assets.

        • cub4life

          true but what if you want to keep him and he decides to leave anyways? you could have had him for 1 more year (even at a lil bit more money) and maybe even helped you win a title. Then there is the possibility that you can’t afford to pay him what he wants (its a buisness and yes they make alot of money but there are so many aspects of a buisness that may say no). So you would lose him to free agency and maybe not find a suitable replacement and miss the playoffs by one game just because in a lost season you decided to use up the time of a player that would not help now.

          ok enough rambling out of me.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Thank you to the first part. To the second, that’s a consistent response to these kinds of pieces (saw them regularly last year with Rizzo and Jackson, for example). At a very basic level, you’re not wrong: the point is to win Major League games, and if a kid can help do that, you bring him up whenever. Because that’s the whole point.

      But that’s only part of the story. The fact is, even the wealthiest, largest market organizations have to consider service time. Imagine a great team with eight great starters and three great starting pitchers and two great relievers. If each of those players was being paid what he was “worth,” you’d be looking at $200 million or more to pay just those 13 players.

      Moreover, if you don’t pay attention to service time as it relates to free agency, you might just be losing your best players in their prime.

      I could go on, but it’s a long, long discussion. For me, the short version is: particularly when you’re talking about a lost season, service time considerations *always* matter, no matter how much we want to say, “who cares? just pay the guy what he’s worth, because if he’s good, we won’t care!”

      • BD

        I would think that any team with that many great players *shouldn’t* care (obviously referring to the large market teams that could even consider going that high) because they *should* be winning and competing each year (i.e. there shouldn’t be a lost season- but maybe when you stink is when this matters the most).

        And I don’t think they would be silly enough to just lose a player in free agency. Yes, maybe you have to trade a couple for more assets. But if you don’t have somebody near -MLB-ready to plug into that gap, your “foundation for sustained success” wasn’t laid very well (as in, they have not drafted/signed/developed like they needed to).

        I know that I should care and hope for them to save as much money any way they can. I guess I just need to learn to love it!

        • Eternal Pessimist

          I don’t think you need to learn to love it…you just need to understand that the club has a different strategy in mind. It isn’t just to suck, for the sake of sucking. It is to build enough assets that they can be pulled up at the right time, allowing them to buy the right assets at the right time to be able to compete. I think you glossed over most of Brett’s points there.

  • GoCubsGo

    Should have left Arieta down in Iowa till September to avoid the Super 2 status

    • Jon

      I can see the “clock games” to a degree, but in this case, I think it’s trivial to play them. Arrieta doesn’t need anymore minor league development, he needs to harness his skills to be a sustainable starter at the big league level. Let him work with the “Bos”.

  • Dave

    None of this matters if he continues to struggle the way he has so far in his career.

  • cubchymyst

    It be great if Arrieta figures it out and ends up a starter. Hopefully between Arrieta and Cabrera one of them (it be great if both of them) will be a staple in the rotation for awhile.

  • Robert Johnson

    Our Biggest problem right now is that the players we’re building on are not performing.

  • illinicubfan

    On the subject of developing pitching – how exactly are the Cubs using Derek Johnson? Is he a roaming instructor that goes and sees all of the farm teams? Is he working with specific guys?

    • Noah

      My understanding is a combination of both.

  • ND Cub

    I was told there would be no math.

    • wilbur

      It’s not math, it’s statistics.

  • MichiganGoat

    If Arrieta can stick in the rotation for the next couple of years plus Strop being a bullpen regular the Feldman sign and trade might be one the best moves the FO office has made in this rebuilding process.

    • On The Farm

      Unless Clevenger turns into an offensive monster

  • Justin

    I think worst case Arrieta can join his boy Strop in the bullpen as another power arm, if he can’t get it together as a starter. I really like the Barry Gibb beard Jake is sporting these days too. Strong look…

    • On The Farm

      With the movement that Arrieta has on his pitches I would love for him to stay in the rotation, but I agree, if he goes to the pen, it seems like he could really light it up. High 90s and compliementing Strop at the back end. Good night.

      • Justin

        Agreed, as with any good arm I hope he sticks in the rotation. Although, I think the idea of him as a badass bullpen arm as a fallback had to appeal to the FO in the deal though.

    • Justin

      On second glance Arrieta is a freaking Barry Gibb love child. Hmmm, not sure what to think about that..

      • Arrieta’sUncle

        The brother in law won’t be happy.

  • K0ng

    Pretty big distinction to be made between free agency service time and Super Two service time. It makes sense to play the clock game to delay free agency by a year to avoid unavoidably losing him for the many reasons articulated by Brett and others. But keeping Arrieta down longer just to avoid arbitration a year earlier doesn’t make sense. Nobody ever loses a player because they couldn’t afford to pay him what the arbitrator ruled he was worth, and as others have said, if the arbitrator tells you have to pay him more than you offered, it’s because you’ve got an unexpectedly good player on your hands. That’s a pretty easy pill to swallow for the Cubs.

  • ETS

    “(rounded to the nearest whole number)”

    Could Brett (or other BN lawyers) explain to me, in contract language, does rounding to the nearest whole mean 0.5 rounds to 1 or do you use banker’s rounding by default?

  • Edwin

    Jake Arrieta seems like a frustrating pitcher, at times. He throws around 94, and has a slider in the upper 80’s, but he doesn’t seem to generate many swings and misses. Which is fine, if he’s trying the “pitch to contact” thing, but he doesn’t generate an abundance of ground balls either, even though he throws a 94 MPH sinker 30% of the time. Plus he still walks a lot of batters, so it’s not like “pitching to contact” is helping him avoid handing out free passes.

    I think the best bet for Jake to have success is to really work on his sinker, and hopefully start generating more groundballs and fewer walks. I’d like to see him model his style of pitching more twords Chris Carpenter, with a Sinker/Curveball/Cutter/Slider combination.

    • Jon

      Reports of his velo are all over the place. I’m sure I heard he was throwing upper 90s just last week? Is the gun in Iowa off?

  • Kyle

    I really wish we didn’t seem so gung-ho about Arrieta as a starter. I mean, if they’re right and he Samardzijas, fine, but I’m worried he might Volstad.

    • DarthHater

      I got loaded last night and Kyled all over myself. It wasn’t pretty. 😛

    • Jason P

      I’m just hoping for somewhere in between. 4.50 ERA the rest of the way would be satisfactory to me.

  • DarthHater

    Soriano is 2 for 2 with another RBI so far today. Good thing we unloaded that guy before he had a chance to screw up our draft pick.

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