Although the market for Yu Darvish has been almost transparently clear so far this offseason (though you just know a “MYSTERY TEAM!” report is coming any day now), the same cannot be said for fellow free agent starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.
We know that the Cubs are interested, at some level, in retaining the righty, but what other teams are in? There have been rumors about the Cardinals and the Brewers, and it’s fair to assume that the Twins are in, given that they desperately want SOME starting pitcher to say yes. The Astros were in until the Gerrit Cole trade. The Rangers have indicated they won’t be getting a high-end free agent this year. The Yankees and Dodgers don’t have money to work with until and unless they clear some payroll. The Angels and Mariners haven’t indicated a connection. The Nationals might just be a Scott Boras conjuring.
Who’s in, exactly?
There’s one team that hasn’t been talked about too much, but that always made a lot of sense to me for a number of big free agents: the Phillies.
Sure, the Phillies are in a rebuild, but consider the following: (1) the Phillies are on the tail end of their rebuild, with young talent emerging already; (2) they are loaded financially, with tons of money to work with; and (3) they are one of the few major-market teams that can sign a free agent like Arrieta without having to worry about luxury tax implications before the big post-2018 free agent class. As they turn the corner in the rebuild, and on the theory that you can only get guys when they’re available, why wouldn’t the Phillies try to get a reasonable deal on Arrieta? They’ve already signed Carlos Santana, and although the NL East might be dominated by the Nationals, it’s not like the rest of the division looks especially strong.
To that end, Phillies young outfielder Nick Williams has been working out in Texas this offseason, and he happens to work out at the same place as Arrieta (who has been kind and gracious with the youngster, as it turns out). Williams says he isn’t trying to recruit Arrieta to the Phillies, because he already knows Arrieta loves Philadelphia (Philly.com).
Organizationally, it sounds from that article like the Phillies are opposed to giving a free agent starting pitcher longer than a three-year deal, which would be the primary hold-up in a pursuit of Arrieta. But they are definitely pursuing pitching, according to their new manager, Gabe Kapler, and Arrieta could wind up an option depending on how the offseason plays out. It’s tough to imagine Arrieta having to settle for a three-year deal, but I don’t think anyone wants to predict anything at this point.
The Phillies’ payroll for luxury tax purposes right now is just $85 million (Cot’s). Even at this phase of their rebuild, that seems criminally low for their market, their revenue, and their ability to become a competitive team as soon as this year. You’d think Arrieta could be a key piece of that. (Or another top free agent starter, to be fair.)
We’ll continue to monitor Arrieta’s market, and the Cubs will continue to wait patiently on him, Yu Darvish, and Alex Cobb.