I was pretty shocked by last night’s Mike Moustakas signing. Yes, I know there are warts in his game, and yes I know he was tied to draft pick compensation, but he got a $6.5 million guarantee. That’s it. It wasn’t even 7% of what he was projected by get by FanGraphs before the offseason. His former teammate Eric Hosmer got 22 TIMES AS MUCH from the Padres.
What in the world?
It was such a shocking signing by a Scott Boras client that I will offer my total understanding to anyone whose mental gears started turning, wondering if Jake Arrieta could be Mesa-bound, coming back to the Cubs as this year’s Dexter Fowler. It was the first time I actually thought about really looking at this question with serious, non-immediately-dismissive eyes.
How about a modest one-year deal for Arrieta, too, right? Coming back to the Cubs would be the one place where a new team wouldn’t have to give up draft picks and IFA bonus pool money to sign him (though they would forego the pick they would get if he signed elsewhere before the draft (but maybe he won’t at this point)). There’s also that familiarity for Arrieta and his family, so there’s at least a modest edge there, as was the case with the Royals and Moustakas.
Well, after mulling it last night and on into today, I … still just don’t see it. For a number of reasons.
Unlike with Dexter Fowler’s surprising return two years ago, the roster crowding on the pitching side of things is not easily sorted out with a quick trade (Chris Coghlan was moved the day Fowler re-signed). There is no starting pitcher the Cubs would trade to accommodate Arrieta. So, unless they were going to go with a six-man rotation (I’m in! … but I don’t see it), the Cubs would have to move Tyler Chatwood to the bullpen to fit Arrieta. To be sure, maybe someone gets hurt, and it was a fantastic stroke of good fortune to have Arrieta, but if not, you’re moving out a 28-year-old starter that you signed to a lucrative three-year deal because you believed in his breakout potential as a starter.
That is not to say you’d choose Tyler Chatwood for your 2018 rotation over Jake Arrieta, all else equal. Of *course* you’d choose Arrieta. But all else is not equal, because Chatwood has already been signed and brought into the organization. And then Yu Darvish was brought in after that. Mike Montgomery is already a big-league-caliber starting pitcher who is in the bullpen.
So, it strikes me as extremely unlikely from a roster standpoint. Much moreso than when Fowler returned.
But let’s say we can get past that part (Chatwood did make some relief appearances as recently as late last season). I still don’t think the Cubs can make it work financially.
We looked at the Cubs’ luxury tax situation after the Yu Darvish signing, and the short version is that the Cubs are about $12 million under the luxury tax cap at the present moment, but that does not include bonuses that accrue during the season. So the team’s actual flexibility is probably under $10 million to make in-season additions. And a playoff-caliber team like the Cubs *MUST* preserve some flexibility for in-season moves, because you just don’t know what is going to happen.
So, then, the Cubs could make a move for Arrieta only if (1) the Cubs were going to dump some salary right now (look at the roster and you tell me where the Cubs could realistically move a guy out who makes significant salary … it doesn’t exist), or (2) they are willing to blow past the luxury tax cap this year (we’ve been giving no indication of that, and instead have seen an indication that next year is when they’ll be willing to go back over).
If neither of those things are true, and if the Cubs need to preserve some space right now, how much could they even offer Arrieta? Maybe $5 to $7 million?
And even if that does align with what Moustakas got, relative to expectations, it’s still apples and oranges, because squeezing in a bargain pitcher on a one-year deal is much more doable for a large volume of teams than squeezing in a guy like Moustakas.
How could the Brewers possibly let Arrieta return to the Cubs on such a deal? How could the Cardinals? How could the Phillies justify not giving him a four-year deal at a reasonable AAV?
Heck, Arrieta might just be better off at that point waiting to sign after the draft, taking a short-term deal and impacting a pennant race. Then perhaps the market turns after the season, just as he’d be hoping by signing a full one-year deal anyway.
I’m also not entirely sure that Arrieta, himself, would even take a one-year, $10 million pillow contract from the Cubs (assuming they could make it work), knowing that he’d be pitching alongside the other top free agent starting pitcher that the Cubs chose for more than 10 times that amount.
However I slice this one up, I don’t see a realistic path that has Arrieta shocking everyone and coming back to the Cubs on a Moustakas-like jaw-dropper.