I keep thinking about shiny-new-toy syndrome. About how easily a person – like me! – can be distracted from what he already has by something different, but not necessarily better, merely because the other thing is different.
I’ve been considering this a lot lately in relation to the Cubs’ seemingly lukewarm interest in free agent starter Jake Arrieta. Obviously, given the organization’s intimate familiarity with the former, there’s a chance that the Cubs are purposefully steering clear of a significant deal with Arrieta. But, still – their relative lack of overall interest/connection to the 2015 NL Cy Young award winner is at least somewhat noteworthy, given their connection to similarly high-priced free agent starter Yu Darvish.
After all, Darvish is only five months younger than Arrieta, and in the last six seasons, has been worth 19.0 fWAR over 832.1 IP, while Arrieta has been worth 20.2 fWAR over 941.2 IP. If they’re both going to command similar deals this winter, why does it feel like the Cubs are very interested in Darvish and only somewhat interested in Arrieta?
Well, for one, perhaps it’s because those expected deals may not be as close as we thought they’d be. Despite similarly projected contracts at the beginning of the season, Arrieta is still reportedly searching for that 6-7 year deal, while some rumors suggest Darvish might accept something a lot shorter (given the extra 1,000 or so innings he threw in Japan before coming to the States, that’d be understandable).
Or maybe the Cubs just don’t project Arrieta to age as well as Darvish for one reason or another. Darvish’s fastball velocity the last two seasons – after a return from Tommy John surgery – averaged a solid 94.8 MPH, which is a full MPH higher than his rate from 2012-2014. While Arrieta, on the other hand, famously lost nearly 2 full MPH off his fastball in 2017 and may have struggled initially because of it.
There’s certainly something to be said about going with a pitcher who’s already experienced the inevitable drop in velocity (he’s a little more predictable in terms of expected future performance), but maybe the Cubs have reason to believe that Darvish can continue to keep it up.
Arrieta’s mechanics are famously complex, allowing him to dominate hitters by inducing weak contact, but maybe the Cubs are concerned that approach won’t age as well as the more traditional style of Darvish.
Is it purely contract related? Purely expected performance related? A combination of both? I don’t think it’s necessarily as easy as we make it out to be. The typical question you’ll get in this spot is “If both guys got the same 5-year deal, who would you prefer?” But I think it’s probably a lot more complicated than that.
What if, for example, the Cubs like Darvish better in the short term, but Arrieta better in the long term? That squares with both of their perceived contract expectations (so either guy would presumably sign a deal), but at that point, which one do you go with? The Cubs faced a very similar predicament in the past with Jon Lester (believed at the time to be better in the long term) and Max Scherzer (believed to be better in the short term), and they went with Lester. Obviously the dollars and familiarity are a little different this time around, but would the Cubs make the same type of decision?
There is, of course, also always the possibility that our external perceptions of a front office’s interests and priorities is skewed. Thanks to shiny-new-toy syndrome, perhaps we are so focused on Darvish and the Cubs that we aren’t reading between whatever lines might be there on Arrieta and the Cubs. It’s not like the front office has said they’re “out” on Arrieta.
The two pursuits will be fascinating to follow, both from the Cubs’ perspective, and from the perspective of other involved teams.