We don’t often track the status/rumors of big-time free agents who aren’t likely to wind up on the Cubs as closely as we’ve tracked Jake Arrieta this winter, but obviously he presents a bit of a different story, especially now.
Not only is Arrieta a former Cub and current free agent at a (former) position of need, he’s also a particularly interesting case to follow given because 1) it’s nearly March and he’s still a free agent, 2) he’s still likely to get at least $100 million, 3) there’s a chance he can wind up in the NL Central (Brewers or Cardinals), and 4) when he signs, the Cubs get an extra draft pick after the second round.
So with all that in mind, let’s catch up on the latest rumblings from Jake Arrieta’s market …
- Yesterday, Patrick Mooney dropped an article at The Athletic, discussing, among other things, Arrieta’s potential landing spots in Milwaukee and Philadelphia. If you ask me, those are the two most likely destination, with the slight edge going to Philadelphia (the Brewers need him more, but the Phillies have the money (and also … wishful thinking)). In any case, the highlight of this article was Kris Bryant’s immense praise and adulation for his former teammate. “He is just that presence and a big name: ‘Jake Arrieta, Cy Young, All-Star, big-game pitcher,'” Bryant told Mooney. “Anytime you have that on your team, it feels pretty good. So if he were to go there, it would definitely make our division a whole lot tougher. It would make the Brewers a whole lot better.” The praise only continued from there – clearly Bryant, like us, would prefer that Arrieta stay out of the central.
- And for what it’s worth, it sounds like that may be the case. In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week, Brewers owner Mark Attansio admitted to keeping in touch with Scott Boras and always looking to improve … before adding that he thinks his group (right now, as is) can already make it to the playoffs. And to really drive it home, he seemed to indicate that their next additions might come mid-season (and if necessary). Unless Arrieta comes way down on his asking price, I’m just not sure the Brewers are interested in making it work. [Brett: Love this comment from the owner: “According to analytics … our pitchers are going to perform at well-above replacement value. So, when you look at adding a pitcher, you need to look at the increment above we think our guys are going to perform at, not at the absolute.” He’s not wrong about that last point, but there’s something kinda weak about not making a major addition because “our pitchers are going to perform at well-above replacement level.” I mean, yeah. I’d hope that’s true of every rotation in baseball. “Our pitchers are going to be better than completely awful, so why would we add another arm?”]
- [Brett: Oops, kinda stole Michael’s thunder here … ] But maybe they should change their tune! At FanRag Sports, Jon Heyman quotes one “rival executive” as saying, “They have to sign a starter. They absolutely have to” if they want to compete with the Cubs in the NL Central. I happen to agree with that rival executive and I’d also like him to shut the heck up, because I’m comfortable with the Brewers current talent level and don’t need to watch someone like Jake Arrieta come to Wrigley Field more often than he needs to this summer. For what it’s worth, Heyman seems to believe that someone like Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn could make more sense. And, to be perfectly honest … Alex Cobb is probably a scarier fit for the Brewers, given that he might be a steal, but could be just as good if things break right (and he’s two years younger than Arrieta). At least signing Arrieta would hamstring some of the Brewers’ future moves (whether he’s good or not).
- Back to that other rumored team, the Philadelphia Phillies. Neil Greenberg (The Washington Post) says that Arrieta won’t help them out much, but he could boost the Nationals: “The best spot for Arrieta that would carry the most impact for a team might be Washington. The Nationals’ starting rotation features [Max] Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez at the top with Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole filling in the fourth and fifth spots. Arrieta, at this stage of his career, would be a significant upgrade over Cole (0.5 projected fWAR in 2018), boosting Washington’s total projected fWAR to 47.1, seventh best in the majors and just a few ticks behind the Boston Red Sox (47.8), who are one spot ahead.”
- The Nationals have always been a dark horse on Arrieta, mostly because their rotation is perfectly fine with two stars at the top and a more than capable #3 and #4. But as Greenberg points out, Arrieta would immediately make that group the best in baseball. Reminder: Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, is known to have a good relationship with Nationals ownership – and they just worked out a big deal for Stephen Strasburg at this time last year.
- Circling back around to a different post at FanRag, Jon Heyman shares Scott Boras’ selling points for Arrieta, who’s analytics don’t do him justice: “Analytical evaluation is incomplete,” Boras said. “It needs to include prestige, the human element, a leadership dynamic. It also needs to include postseason performance. Analytics are void of that.” Yeah … I love Jake, but as soon as the Cubs start making $100+ million decisions on “prestige” is the minute I lose faith in them. The human element is real, Theo Epstein will be the first to tell you that, but there are real questions about Jake Arrieta’s future – not questions that would stop you from wanting him on your team (he improves every rotation in baseball right now), but enough to question whether something greater than the $126 million Yu Darvish received is really a sound move.
- In any case, Heyman runs through some of the arguments for and against Arrieta before listing the most likely suitors (with odds): Nationals (2-1), Brewers (4-1), Phillies (5-1), Cardinals (12-1), Dodgers (15-1), Orioles (20-1), Minesotta Twins (40-1), “the field” (8-1). If this were a real bet, I’d save my money on the Orioles (already got two pitchers/aren’t going to be good), Twins (already got two pitchers/won’t spend the money), and Dodgers (haven’t pulled off the trade to free up “cap” space). But the Nationals, Brewers, Phillies, and Cardinals are all pretty plausible. In fact, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t end up at one of those four spots, or maybe Anaheim.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.