Earlier today at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan wrote an interesting piece entitled “The Cubs Might Be a Problem for Jake Arrieta“, and I really think you should check it out.
In short, Sullivan argues that given what we *know* about the Cubs right now – they have money to spend, a need in the rotation, and interest in starters around Arrieta’s age and tier (Yu Darvish), including those with an even more worrisome injury history (Darvish/Alex Cobb) – it’s pretty freakin’ weird that they’ve been so distant from Arrieta in free agency.
In fact, it’s not just weird … it might even be a red flag for other interested teams.
Consider that, at this point in time, nobody knows Jake Arrieta better than the Chicago Cubs (with second being maybe the Detroit Tigers, because that’s where you’ll find his former Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio). If you’re another team eyeing his market, wouldn’t you be at least a little concerned that the team that knows Arrieta the best, and has a clear need and desire to add someone almost exactly like him in Yu Darvish is nowhere to be found? Heck, we were wondering where the Arrieta rumors were, given the obvious interest in Darvish, almost two months ago.
So, honestly, yeah, I can see the Cubs’ apparent lack of interest playing some sort of role in Arrieta’s market – I just don’t know how much.
Arrieta has three things going in his favor. One, he was very great, recently. He hasn’t lost all of that shine. Two, his repertoire is still bananas, based on how the individual pitches move. He doesn’t throw anything flat. And three, Arrieta’s delivery is deceptive, because it’s as if he’s releasing the ball from shortstop or something. The Orioles tried to coach that out of him, but the Cubs allowed him to be himself. It worked out. Arrieta still possesses a number of positive traits.
Of course, Sullivan immediately goes on to say that free agency is more forward-looking than ever and Arrieta has clearly had some worrisome indicators. One “team person” even told Sullivan that Arrieta scared the hell out of him, and he didn’t mean that as an intimidating presence on the mound.
But if I may … I’m not sure I can take this as fact.
Why? Well, for one, we really don’t know what’s going on in his market at all right now. It’s been extremely quiet (especially compared to all of the Darvish noise), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have similar $100M offers out there. Keeping those rumors quiet might just be something Scott Boras has done well and/or on purpose this offseason as part of his selling strategy.
There’s also the fact that knowing Arrieta well could cut in the other direction – maybe there aren’t a lot of Cubs-Arrieta rumors out there because they both know each other very well, and there doesn’t have to be much courting. Just a conversation or two at the end of free agency to see what’s what.
For another thing, I’m fairly certain that the Cubs are interested in bring Arrieta back, but at their own price – and that’s *not* different than their strategy with Darvish or Cobb. The Cubs may prefer Darvish, but that’s not necessarily a slight against Arrieta. Perhaps, they simply think Darvish will cost less and/or know that if things fall through with Darvish, they can switch back to Arrieta and re-sign him quickly enough. We couldn’t draw that line on the outside for certain.
And for yet another problem – and this one strikes me as the most realistic – maybe Arrieta’s asking price is just too high. If, in a completely hypothetical example, the Cubs heard that Arrieta was actually looking for a $200M contract this winter, they might not want to insult him with a deal in the five-year/$125M range. WHEREAS if someone like Darvish was looking for $150M (again, all made up numbers), a lower offer in that $125M range is a lot closer to reality and likelier to bear fruit.
In the end, I’m sure it’s a combination of all three, but unfortunately, perception does matter. If the Cubs are considered to be “staying clear” of Arrieta, other teams might get the wrong impression, and that could affect his market. It would be a bummer if that were true, but unfortunately it could be.
Regardless of those perceptions, though, I’m willing to bet Arrieta eventually ends up with a healthy deal in the four to six-year range, and something between $20-$25M in AAV (with a total commitment of at least $100M probably the minimum).
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.