Yesterday, a report circulated that the Cubs were willing to go to four years and about $110 million to retain free agent starter Jake Arrieta, and today, Bruce Levine lends support to the years aspect.
Our @MLBBruceLevine just told us it's Cubs or Cards for Jake Arrieta, with neither team budging at a 4 year maximum. Boras wanted 6 years in November. The odd FA market continues to bring Arrieta/Darvish terms back into the Cubs wheelhouse.
I’m going to sidestep the “it’s the Cubs or Cards” aspect for now, since we know that the Cubs are also interested in Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb, and there remains a very real chance that the Cubs sign one of those two and not Arrieta (and it’s possible the Cardinals use their remaining dollars on another bat). It’s possible those are the only two teams in it for Arrieta, and both teams want him first and foremost over any other option, but I tend to doubt that.
If Levine is correct about both the Cubs and Cardinals holding the line at four years, though, we can extrapolate that no other suitor out there has been willing to go to five years, let alone six. It’s perhaps not a surprise when you look – as we did this morning in the Darvish context – at the plausible suitors when so many teams are rebuilding and so many big markets are sitting out because of the luxury tax.
The Cubs are in the catbird seat this offseason, and they appear to be taking their time wisely. The question that’s been so difficult for us to answer on the outside of these negotiations is which of the three top free agent starters – Arrieta, Darvish, and Alex Cobb – you want the Cubs to land. Cobb, at age 30 and with only one full year back after Tommy John surgery, is the upside bet, and you’d want him to be priced accordingly. If he’s willing to take a very reasonable deal, then there would be a good reason to want him over the other two. If his demands are surprisingly high, however, the Cubs may as well try to land one of Darvish or Arrieta.
We talked recently about the relative merits of Darvish and Arrieta, with plenty of arguments why the latter should be nearly as attractive as the former. Sure, Arrieta has seen a decline in his fastball velocity, but there was a very long stretch this summer where he was a top 20 pitcher in baseball without it. Yes, he’ll turn 32 in March, but Darvish turns 32 in August, and has thrown far more professional innings thanks to his time in Japan.
All else equal, I probably prefer Darvish, but it’s very close. Either way, if the Cubs can get Arrieta on a four-year deal that *doesn’t* put them over the luxury tax for 2018, they could be in a uniquely advantageous spot to land a top player in this market – with so many teams sitting out – and then be in the huge post-2018 free agent market with the other big teams that are all once again willing to go over the luxury tax, having had their penalties reset (because the Cubs would have also already been under the luxury tax for 2018).