Ah … the age old question: Will Player X be open to an extension with Team Y even this close to free agency?
It’s a question that comes up for just about every team just about every spring, and for good reason. The spring tends to be the time of year when extensions are most frequently discussed.
Players and executives are all in one place, each has slightly less external noise to focus on (compared to the regular season), the roster is mostly set for the year, the budgets are understood, and the two sides have often just completed a round of arbitration negotiations – so the wants/needs of all parties are relatively well known (which is often a big first hurdle).
And such is the case for Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs.
Ever since the end of Arrieta’s breakout 2014 season with the Cubs, fans and analysts alike have been wondering if (or when) an extension was forthcoming. Arrieta’s historic Cy Young run in 2015, coupled with a step back thanks to command issues in 2016, have combined to greatly complicate the matter of just how much each side should see as reasonable in an extension. Arrieta, who turns 31 next month, is scheduled to hit free agency after this season.
Still, although we don’t quite know where things land, the front office indicated at the Cubs Convention in January that discussions would take place, and Arrieta now says he remains open to the possibility of an extension.
Before we dive into any specifics, note that you can read Arrieta’s full thoughts on an extension from his first few days in camp at Cubs.com (Carrie Muskat), CSN Chicago (Patrick Mooney), the Chicago Sun Times (Gordon Wittenmyer), and the Chicago Tribune (Mark Gonzalez).
At the highest (and most important level), it seems that Arrieta is genuinely open to an extension, as opposed to just paying lip service (Cubs.com): “I owe a lot to this team and this organization. I don’t want to see my time here come to an end …. I think there’s opportunity, and we can have conversations as far as an extension is concerned.”
But even as he added that he believes “talks” will happen this spring, he made sure to add an extension is not his number one priority:
Arrieta covers a lot of ground in the interview above, including the very important fact that once a Major Leaguer makes a lot of money in his career – like Jake Arrieta now has (he’s set to make $15.6 million this year alone) – there’s not as much pressure to secure an extension.
He can pitch in 2017, and as long as he stays healthy and reasonably effective, he’ll get paid handsomely next winter. He certainly seems open to an extension, but our old refrain “What will make sense for Arrieta, won’t necessarily make sense for the Cubs,” seems as appropriate as ever.
But even if there’s no extension to be had – and let’s be clear, it is possible – Joe Maddon isn’t worried about the situation impacting Arrieta’s performance. In fact, he’s hoping that Arrieta’s drive to earn an even bigger pay day next winter will result in one of his best year’s yet (Cubs.com): “If you’re in that year [before free agency], you really want to put your best foot forward to attract the best contract the next season.”
At the same time, Maddon mentions that Arrieta has always worked hard and been all about winning, so it’s hard to imagine him pushing himself any harder this year.
As usual, we’ll keep an eye on this story to see if anything develops. For the most part, you can keep Opening Day in mind as something of a soft-deadline for an extension. Extensions do occasionally happen for impending free agents during the season*, but they are awfully rare. If nothing gets done before the end of Spring Training, you shouldn’t expect anything during the season.
But remember, the Cubs need starting pitching beyond 2017, and they’re as familiar with Arrieta as anyone in baseball. Just because an extension doesn’t get done right now, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line for Player X and Team Y. Let’s just wait and see what happens.
*[Interestingly, though, we don’t have to go too far back to find an example of an impending free agent signing an in-season extension, as it was just last year … and it happened to be a top pitcher … who happened to be, like Arrieta, represented by Scott Boras: it was Stephen Strasburg, who re-upped for seven years and $175 million.]
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.