Cy Young Winner Jake Arrieta Could Bolt Cubs for Massive $100M Payday

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 23, 2017

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws during the first inning of Game 4 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

If Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers was Jake Arrieta's swan song in a Chicago Cubs uniform, at least he went out on a winning note.

The Cubs lost the NLCS four games to one. The Dodgers are headed to the World Series; the defending champions are going home.

Game 4 was the lone bright spot for the Cubbies. Arrieta went 6.2 strong innings, allowing one run on three hits and fanning nine. He looked a lot like the guy who garnered NL Cy Young Award honors in 2015.

Chicago prevailed, 3-2, giving the Wrigley Field faithful something to cheer about before their eventual elimination.

Cubs fans roared, in full-throated fashion, for Arrieta as he exited the field and doffed his hat.

"Hopefully, it's not a goodbye. It's a thank you, obviously," Arrieta said of his Game 4 performance, per Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "If that's where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there."

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18:  Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs acknowledges the crowd after being relieved in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 18, 2
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This winter, Arrieta will test free agency. Someone will reward him handsomely, and unless the Cubs are willing to pay the market rate for an ace—$100-plus million—he'll be hurling baseballs in a new city.

Arrieta's mega-payday wasn't always a foregone conclusion. On June 5, his average fastball velocity was sitting at 91.8 mph compared to a career average of 93.2, and his ERA was an unsightly 4.60.

As this writer noted at the time, "No one who has watched Arrieta pitch this season...would argue he's an unequivocal ace. He's shown flashes, but the decline in velocity and bumpy results are crimson flags flapping in the North Side breeze."


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He came on strong after the All-Star break and posted a 2.28 ERA in the second half. He wobbled in September, coughing up seven earned runs and 15 hits in 10.1 innings, but he struck out 13 while yielding just one earned run in 10.2 postseason innings.

The 31-year-old showed enough to pencil his name next to Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish atop the 2017-18 free-agent pitching class.

"He's a squirrel with a lot of nuts in the tree," said superagent Scott Boras, who represents Arrieta, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. "He's a big-game squirrel."

It's a clumsy metaphor, but Boras knows how to get his clients their acorns.

Arrieta, too, sounded confident he'd land a whopping contract and appeared prepared to part ways with the Cubs in August, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale:

"It's completely business, so I get it. [The Cubs] haven't offered me anything because they know if they do, it's probably not something I would accept, so why make the offer? I get it.

"If you let that stuff bother you, you don't completely understand the sport, because that's part of it. They have to do what's in the best interest of the organization in the long-term. Is that spending money on me or getting a guy like [Jose] Quintana? They're going to try to establish a rotation without spending $30 million-plus a season, and maybe sign another bat. Who knows what they do?"

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 11:  Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs reacts in the third inning during game four of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field on October 11, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonath
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

That's more than the usual, out-of-my-hands, wait-and-see platitudes you hear from impending free agents. That's a guy who gets the business side of the game and is prepared to follow the money.

The Cubs owe 33-year-old Jon Lester $27.5 million in 2018 and 2019, $20 million in 2020 and $25 million in 2021 with a $10 million buyout.

Quintana's relatively affordable deal pays him between $8.85 million and $11.5 million through 2020 with a pair of $1 million buyouts in 2019 and 2020.

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks is entering salary arbitration after finishing third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2016 and posting a 3.03 ERA in 139.2 injury-shortened innings this season.

Each of the Cubs' top five prospects are pitchers, per MLB.com, but none appear ready to join the 2018 rotation. There's room for them to re-sign Arrieta. 

There will be competition for his services, however. The Dodgers, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox—baseball's top three teams by payroll, per Spotrac—could all be in the market for a frontline starter. Others will be in the hunt.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 18:  Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs receives a standing ovation after being relieved in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game four of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Sinking dollars into a starter in his early 30s carries risk. The Red Sox handed David Price a seven-year, $217 million pact before the 2016 season and have watched the decorated southpaw battle injury and inconsistency. 

On the other hand, the Washington Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract in January 2015 ahead of his age-30 season, and he's likely to win a second straight (and third career) Cy Young Award.

A deal exceeding $100 million is in Arrieta's future. Boras and his track record will see to that. Maybe the Cubs will give it to him. More likely, someone else will.

He went out on a winning note in 2017, and he's about to be compensated accordingly.

Revel in that NLCS cap-tipping, Cubbies followers. It could be your final Arrieta moment.  

         

All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference