After turning in the second career shutout on Father’s Day, Chicago Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta is once-again turning heads across the baseball world.
With the Cubs in the hunt for a postseason berth for the first time in over half a decade, now is as good a time as any to ask a critical question for the organization’s future: is it time to talk numbers with the right-hander?
Arrieta’s current contract expires after the 2017 season, giving Chicago two more years of control before he hits the open market. Prior to his arrival in the Windy City, the 29-year-old starter was little more than a prospect that failed to pan out.
Call to the Pen
Originally taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the 31st round of the 2004 MLB Draft out of high school, Arrieta opted to play college ball for a few years before eventually being selected by the Baltimore Orioles in June 2007 in the fifth-round.
Prior to the 2009 season, Arrieta was tagged as the game’s No. 52 prospect by Baseball Prospectus. That year, he pitched to an 11-11 record with the O’s Double and Triple-A affiliates, carrying a 3.40 ERA and 1.314 WHIP in 150-plus innings of work – solid work for a 23-year-old prospect.
He broke onto the big league scene in June 2010 with Baltimore, before going on to start the home openers at Camden Yards in both 2011 and 2012 before seeing things spiral out of control.
After struggling to a 6.00-plus ERA to open the 2012 campaign, he began a near-constant back-and-forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk that ultimately ended when he was dealt to the Cubs mid-season in 2013.
Since then, suffice to say he’s been more than the Cubs could had ever hoped for.
Prior to Sunday’s complete game shutout, Arrieta carried a 2.98 earned run average in his 47 starts with Chicago. He pitched to a career-best 2.53 ERA, 2.26 FIP and 0.989 WHIP last season, when he finished ninth in NL Cy Young voting.
He’s been the Cubs’ ace over the last year-plus. Now is the time to make sure he doesn’t walk out in two years’ time.
Clearly, something has clicked for Arrieta, who has been more of an ace in terms of performance than the club’s $155 million offseason acquisition Jon Lester, who, himself, has showed signs of dominance at time this season.
So what would a contract extension for the right-hander look like?
Arrieta ranked ninth in the National League last season in WAR for pitchers, coming in at 5.3. It was more than two wins less than the league leader, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the L.A. southpaw is in a league of his own.
Last offseason, after leading the Kansas City Royals to the World Series, right-hander James Shields landed himself a four-year, $52 million deal from the San Diego Padres. After trading for Rick Porcello, the Boston Red Sox inked him to a four-year, $103 million deal.
Another name that Cubs fans should remember is Anibal Sanchez, who the Cubs lost out on a few years back, eventually settling for Edwin Jackson. The right-hander signed a five-year, $80 million deal with Detroit instead of coming to Chicago, and has had mixed success since then.
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So what do all of these pitchers have in common?
They were all in the neighborhood of 30 years old when they signed their deals and all had varying degrees of success – both highs and lows – during their time in the big leagues. All of them, in my opinion, are fairly decent comps when pondering what Arrieta’s deal may look like.
The right-hander’s successful time in a Cubs uniform isn’t enough to make Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer completely overlook his struggles in Baltimore. That being said, he’s worth more than the $52 million the team gave to Jackson – a veteran journeyman who has scarcely been anything more than a .500 pitcher.
Although he’s pitched like an ace for the last two seasons, there isn’t enough evidence to throw $120 million at his doorstep, either – especially given that the Cubs gave Lester $155 million last winter after a decade-plus of dominance.
In the end, I believe that Sanchez’s five-year, $80 million deal will be most representative of what Jake Arrieta will get in his next deal from the Chicago Cubs.
That being said, if Chicago waits and he puts together another dominant campaign or two, his price will skyrocket, pushing into the $100-million range, while drawing multiple suitors looking for an ace to lead them forward.
The Cubs’ front office cannot risk losing an asset like Arrieta to free agency. Now is the time for the two sides to sit down and hammer out a new deal that keeps him in Chicago for years to come.