A report this weekend indicated that impending free agent Jake Arrieta would be looking for a Max Scherzer-level deal (that one was seven years and $210 million) if he were going to sign an extension and forego his shot at free agency.
Obviously that’s not a deal the Cubs are going to be signing right now, even if it’s true that Arrieta actually wants that amount. In free agency, if he has another 2015-like season in 2017, then it’s certainly possible Arrieta could command a contract near that level. Although he just turned 31 yesterday, he’s extremely physically fit, has a clean injury history and a relatively low-mileage arm. And if there are two out of three seasons in the rearview that were otherworldly (with two more solid seasons in the last four years)? Yes, a team will probably go nuts to sign him.
It remains to be seen if that team will be the Cubs – there’s a lot to play out this season, after all. And that was mostly Arrieta’s message when he was asked about the contract stuff.
“It’s not something I sit down and think about at length,” Arrieta said of his contract situation, per Cubs.com and CSN. “It’s a situation many players have been in in the past. They’ve dealt with it. It might not be something fun to talk about. I understand it’s a circumstance of where I’m at in my career. The time is coming to a point where either a deal gets done or I go to free agency. The focus needs to be for the next eight months being a Chicago Cub and trying to do the best job I can individually and help my guys be the best they can be.”
In the end, Arrieta does himself the greatest service by remaining focused on his performance this season, and the overall performance of the Cubs. With quite a bit of money earned through his arbitration years, it’s not as if Arrieta is pitching this season like his future security depends on it, but he certainly has an extremely wide variance of possible contract outcomes after 2017.
We’ll hear about Arrieta’s contract periodically throughout the season, but I don’t expect serious extension conversations to happen once the bell rings. Even if Arrieta reaches free agency, that doesn’t mean he’ll definitely leave – but he will have the opportunity to hear what other high bidders are willing to offer. The Cubs have significant needs in the rotation after this season, but they also have a huge cast of young talent that will start entering its arbitration years all at the same time. With the penalties associated with exceeding the luxury tax now impacting actual baseball operations, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs continue to be thoughtful in their free agent commitments going forward, even as revenues continue to increase.
(Related note, by the way: compensatory draft picks for losing a qualified free agent (like Arrieta may become, and perhaps also Wade Davis) now come after the second round, not the first round, thanks to the new CBA. Further, if a team is over the luxury tax limit at the time, the pick comes after the fourth round. There are more reasons than that to want to stay under the luxury tax limit, but that’s one that’ll become immediately relevant to the Cubs.)