Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta will be with the Chicago Cubs for at least two more years. That’s the very, very good news.
What comes after that, well, I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad news – it’s just that we don’t really know what’s going to happen.
Arrieta, who turns 30 next month, is under team control for 2016 and 2017 via arbitration, and he figures to get a huge raise for 2016 very soon. With an arbitration hearing looming next week, Arrieta has asked for $13 million, while the Cubs offered $7.5 million. If you’re thinking that neither figure – especially the Cubs’ figure – is even close to Arrieta’s actual value, you’d be correct. But, in arbitration, that doesn’t really matter. Players get a progressive increase in salary throughout the process, roughly tied to comparable players and their own performance, but they do not get full market value. Arrieta made $3.63 million in 2015, his first year of arbitration.
No one expects that to happen right now, though. This front office has a long track record of avoiding arbitration and, despite the chasm between their numbers, there is still plenty of time to come to an agreement. Indeed, I still think it’s very possible that the sides manage to come together on a two-year deal, which buys out both arbitration years, and gives each side some security going forward.
But the big question, as teased in the intro, is what happens next. Bruce Levine, who broke word of the arbitration hearing date, reports that there is still a chance that a long-term extension between the sides could happen, and a six-year deal “was floated” at some point in the past few weeks, though it’s not clear who was doing the floating.
To be quite sure, there’s not a Cubs fan alive who wouldn’t love to see Arrieta locked up on a reasonable six-year deal. Even as such a deal takes him into his mid-30s, his wide pitch repertoire, his past arm health, and his physical fitness level suggest he’s a good bet to age well.
I have trouble seeing an extension that makes sense both for the Cubs and for Arrieta, thanks to a handful of unique circumstances. For the Cubs, they’ve got Arrieta under control for his age 30 and 31 seasons at what amount to extremely nice team options (arbitration years two and three). How much money are they going to want to guarantee today for the privilege of securing Arrieta’s age 32, 33, 34, and, say, 35 seasons? Arrieta is probably still going to be a very good pitcher by then, but guaranteeing huge, free agent-level dollars two years in advance to a pitcher over 30 years old is rarely an advisable strategy. And, then, from Arrieta’s perspective, if the Cubs are going to guarantee only the salaries in, say, the next three or four years, is that really worth him giving up his age-32 shot at free agency? It’s certainly possible that he’s comfortable just locking down life-changing money right now, but it’s also possible he wants to bet on himself and make much, much more. I couldn’t blame him either way. It’s just a tricky situation with an older pitcher, who broke out late, and who is still under team control into his 30s. You don’t see it very often, which is why it’s hard to see a match coming. (Obligatory: I heart Jake Arrieta, and I think he’s all kinds of awesome. This isn’t about that. I’m very glad that the Cubs will have him, at a minimum, for the next two seasons.)
Whatever happens right now, even if the sides simply agree on a one-year deal for 2016 before Tuesday’s hearing, they can still talk about a long-term extension thereafter. It’s not like this *has* to be figured out right now. It’s just that, because they’re already talking about a contract, it’s logical to discuss all angles right now.