Jake Arrieta is set to become a free agent following the 2017 MLB season. While he may be looking for a longer contract, a three-year deal would be fair for both him and the Chicago Cubs.
Since the Chicago Cubs acquired him in 2013, Jake Arrieta’s career has had a revitalization. Pre-trade, Arrieta never had an ERA under 4.00 in three-and-a-half seasons with the Baltimore Orioles; post-trade, Arrieta has never had an ERA greater than 3.66 with the Cubs.
Arrieta has experienced tremendous success during his tenure with the Cubs. In 2015, he threw a no-hitter, led the MLB in wins and won the NL Cy Young Award; in 2016, he threw another no-hitter, made the NL All-Star team and won the World Series.
Soon to be 31 years old, Arrieta is no longer some kid trying to make his way in baseball. At the same time, though, he still has (based on his age) a lot of life left in his career. Essentially, Arrieta’s situation presents a huge question mark for the Cubs.
For as much success that Arrieta has had, an enormous contract extension is no guarantee. If Arrieta were three or four years younger, re-signing him for seven years or so would be an easy decision. Instead, any concerns the Cubs may have about giving him such a contract might be warranted.
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By the 2018 season, Arrieta will be 32 years old. For the sake of comparison, Jon Lester was 31 by the start of his first year with the Cubs. Lester obviously signed a 6-year, $155 million deal with the team.
While it is true Lester was about Arrieta’s current age at that point, the two aren’t exactly 100 percent similar. At the time he signed with the Cubs, Lester’s résumé included: three All-Star Games selections, two World Series titles and six seasons with a sub-4.00 ERA.
By signing Lester, the Cubs knew they were getting an ace, a winner and someone with an extensive history of success. However, he very well could have started going downhill the moment he stepped onto the mound. Instead of age affecting him, though, Lester has obviously continued his dominance as a pitcher.
Arrieta has been fantastic with the Cubs, but the similarities between him and Lester as a free agent are striking. Yes, Lester hasn’t stepped back performance-wise after signing with the Cubs. What will happen to Arrieta?
What’s the solution?
Assuming the worst is a poor strategy for evaluating an athlete’s worth. For all anyone knows, Arrieta could continue his dominance on the mound for the next decade. At the same time, he could experience a drop off in performance in the future. No one is perfect, after all.
For this reason alone, giving Arrieta a 6-8-year, $200 million+ extension might not be in the best interest of anyone. If the Cubs re-sign him to such a contract and he flops three or four years in, they’ll be in a financial bind. Arrieta would be judged as unworthy of the contact, which is unfair because he does deserve an big extension.
What exactly should the Cubs do, then? To me, offering Arrieta an extension of around 3-4 years for $60-$80 million seems fair for both sides. The Cubs would therefore not have to commit to Arrieta past his mid-30’s. If he continues his dominance over that contract, the team could re-sign him again after it expires.
For Arrieta, he would get a large sum of money and a chance to become a free agent again. The deal may not be ideal for him, but free agents in their 30’s have struggled finding fair contracts as of late.
This offseason, former Cubs’ pitcher Jason Hammel signed a 2-year, $16 million deal with the Kansas City Royals. At 34, the Cubs opted to not re-sign Hammel; by declining their option on him, the team gave him a chance to find a longer and wealthier contract on the open market.
Instead of teams being interested in the 15-game winner, Hammel stayed on the market until February. In addition, he actually wound up signing a contract worth less money than he would’ve made with the Cubs.
Arrieta could very well face a similar situation as Hammel’s if he reaches the open market next winter. While he will have a plethora of suitors, he may not find the contract he is looking for, just as Hammel didn’t. If the Cubs offer Arrieta a short-extension, it might be in his best interest to accept.