I enjoyed this ESPN.com read on Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I simply get all baseball-tingly whenever I think about how crazy good those two pitchers are.
As a baseball fan, it’s a bummer that I won’t get to see the Cubs taking on Kershaw in this week’s series at Wrigley Field. In a four-game set, the odds of the Cubs missing Kershaw were almost incalculably low. (*Calculates: oh, I guess the odds aren’t that low. Carry on.*) But miss him they shall, and, as a Cubs fan, my bummed-ness is dramatically tempered by the fact that I like to see the Cubs win baseball games. Teams that face Kershaw rarely do.
Although he’s taken it to another stratosphere in recent years, that was still largely true of Kershaw back in the spring of 2014, when the lefty ace agree to forgo a crack at free agency the following year in exchange for a $215 million contract over the next seven years, complete with an opt-out after 2018. It was a ton of money – especially for a pitcher at that time – but it was far less than he was speculated to be getting if he’d played out the 2014 season and gone all in for free agency.
Kershaw tells ESPN that L.A. was home for him, though, and he put a lot of stock in playing somewhere he was comfortable, even if it meant not chasing every last dollar.
Which is what brings us to the Arrieta piece of the story. The two pitchers have been linked for a couple years now, as Arrieta has ascended to – or at least near to – the level Kershaw has pitched at in recent years, and Arrieta won a hotly debated Cy Young contest last year over Kershaw and his then-teammate Zack Greinke.
Of his own decision, in the context of the one Arrieta now faces, Kershaw said, “The financial aspect is going to play a huge role in it. But at the end of the day, you can make the most money somewhere and [if] you’re not going to be happy, it’s not worth it. I definitely took that into account.”
Arrieta, 30, is still a year and a half away from free agency, but he’ll undoubtedly be confronted by more extension questions in the coming months, and perhaps most strongly in the Spring Training before his walk year (the same time Kershaw signed his deal). The Cubs’ ace has said he enjoys being in Chicago, and, all else equal, would like to stay. Discussions to that end will continue. But, at the same time, Arrieta is rightly going to want to be compensated commensurate with his value to the market, and has not indicated that he would take a lesser contract to stay with the Cubs.
(I’d caveat there that any extension some distance from free agency will have to account for the added risk the team is taking on (i.e., no extension should ever be priced equal to the top of the free agent market), but the general tenor of what we’ve heard so far is that there won’t be a huge discount baked into any hypothetical extension.)
Does that mean Kershaw’s advice would fall on deaf ears? Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far, because it’s not as if Arrieta’s decision will be as black and white as taking a short, poorly-paying extension with the Cubs on the one hand, and taking a monster deal with the highest bidder on the other hand. There’s some nuance at play here, and I’m sure Arrieta’s comfort and happiness (and that of his family) will factor into any decision he makes. It’s just that “comfort and happiness” necessarily incorporates a whole lot of factors beyond solely the team for which you play.
It’ll be interesting – albeit sometimes uncomfortable – to follow this whole storyline through the 2016 season and on into the 2017 season. The good news is that the storyline will see Arrieta in a Cubs uniform, at a minimum, for that period of time. After that, it’s still too early to say for sure what comes next.
Meanwhile, Arrieta will face Kershaw’s Dodgers tonight, as the team from L.A. was not so fortunate to miss in this series the guy who no-hit them last time out.