I don’t think we’ve hidden the ball on impending free agent Jake Arrieta’s status with the Cubs: although the two sides have said publicly that they’re open to an extension, there are too many headwinds right now to actually complete a deal.
Arrieta is but a year away from free agency at this point, will pitch this season at age 31, has already made some pretty solid bank in his career, and is one year removed from a historically great season. Add all that up, and, even as the Cubs are going to be in serious need of pitching after 2017, it doesn’t make for an easy extension negotiation.
To that end, Jon Heyman reports that the Cubs did speak with Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras this spring, but there was “no traction” in the talks. The Cubs, Heyman suggests, don’t want to go beyond four years in an extension (unclear whether that includes 2017), while Arrieta is seeking a “mega deal along the lines of the Max Scherzer contract with the Nats.” That deal, of course, was seven years and $210 million (albeit with sizable deferrals that probably took the actual value under $200 million), in part because Scherzer was heading only into his age 30 season at the time.
So, setting aside an extension – because the Cubs are not going to sign Arrieta to a seven-year, $210 million deal a year before free agency – how much could Arrieta get in free agency?
Sahadev Sharma dug into that question in a great read over at The Athletic:
— The Athletic (@TheAthleticChi) March 4, 2017
You’ll want to read for the full context, but the short version is probably what you’d expect: the reasonable range of contracts for Arrieta is a relatively huge swing, depending on how he pitches in 2017. With another great season, Arrieta probably does approach that $30 million AAV figure, even in a deeper free agent class. With another 2016-like season, he probably settles somewhere in the mid-$20 million range. And if he gets hurt or tanks? All bets are off, though that’s true for virtually all pitchers.
Interestingly, Scherzer turned down what was believed at the time to be a really substantial extension offer from the Tigers – six years, $144 million – in the spring before free agency. If the Cubs made a similar offer to Arrieta right now, it would be an entirely reasonable offer … and it would be entirely understandable if Arrieta declined, just as Scherzer did.
Hopefully he pitches exceptionally well again in 2017, and the Cubs are the beneficiary – and Arrieta cashes in.
Whether that would be with the Cubs or a new team remains to be seen. But, either way, Arrieta has gotten himself into position for a huge payday.