The 2017 season may well be a few weeks away, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start discussing next year’s free agent class.
Indeed, the Chicago Cubs have a number of impending free agents at the end of this upcoming season, with the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta, chief among them.
After being traded to Chicago in July of 2013, Arrieta has given the Cubs the best 634.2 innings of of his career (2.52 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 54 wins).
But soon, they may be forced to say goodbye. At least, if MLB Trade Rumors predictions are accurate.
At MLBTR, Tim Dierkes profiled the 2017-2018 MLB free agent class by ranking the various players in terms of earning potential, and Jake Arrieta wound up on top.
- Jake Arrieta, RHP
- Yu Darvish, RHP
- Johnny Cueto, RHP
- Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
- Jonathan Lucroy, C
- J.D. Martinez, OF
- Eric Hosmer, 1B
- Justin Upton, OF
- Carlos Gonzalez, OF
- Mike Moustakas, 3B
First of all: wow.
If you’re looking for some right-handed pitching help at the front of your rotation, you basically have four fantastic options. While not all are equal (longevity concerns, injury histories, and track record issues abound), there are clearly plenty of top of the rotation options available.
In fact, to be fair, Dierkes says that each one of the first three could have reasonably taken the top spot overall. And it’s not like the list drops off dramatically after that – 31-year-old catcher Jonathan Lucroy had a fantastic season in 2016.
But we’re here to talk about Arrieta for now. The Cubs have tried (multiple times) to extend Arrieta, but the problems are always the same:
- Arrieta has already earned quite a bit in his career, so he’s financially secure enough to bet on himself.
- And even if he weren’t, he’s the kind of confident dude who would bet on himself anyway (in part for players that come behind him).
- The type of years and money he’s probably capable of getting on the free agent market will be longer and more expensive than what makes sense for the Cubs.
- With just months to go (at this point), it’ll be hard to take free agency away from Arrieta.
With that said, Dierkes calls a six-year deal a “long-shot,” because of Arrieta’s age at free agency (32). I’m not sure I agree. While I wouldn’t necessarily want to give Arrieta a six-year deal starting in 2018 (even with his extraordinarily healthy and athletic lifestyle), I’m pretty sure someone will. I do not believe, however, that he’ll land the seven-year deal he’s reportedly looking for, at least not without repeating in 2017 something close to what he did in 2015.
With that said, the arguments in favor of Arrieta are still pretty strong.
Outside of the obviously solid performance of the last three seasons (second half of 2016 notwithstanding?), Arrieta has stayed off the disabled list and has a relatively low “pitching odometer,” given his late blooming. In a lot of ways, his story is reminiscent of Jeff Samardzija, but with a higher peak.
Even still, Dierkes suggests that – depending on the term – Arrieta’s average annual value might approach and even “push into” the low-$30 million range, which seems possible to me only if 2017 is a really significantly strong year for Arrieta.
But don’t get me wrong, if he has a healthy and moderately productive season (by his standards), you won’t get Arrieta for less than the $125-$150 million range that upper tier starters get in free agency. If that’s over six or seven years, well, then you can push that AAV down, but if every team is sticking to their guns at five years, then he may very well earn that $30 million/year.
Either way, it’s looking less likely that the Cubs will be the team to do it.