Chicago Cubs: Reasons to extend Arrieta, and reasons to let him walk

Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta throws a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Heading into the 2017 season, the Chicago Cubs will have a tough decision to make.  Jake Arrieta has been instrumental in the Cubs’ recent success, but this could end up being his last season with the team.

Since being dealt from the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, Jake Arrieta has had a career resurgence with the Chicago Cubs.  Not merely becoming a serviceable pitcher, but solidifying himself as one of the best starting pitchers in the league.

Indeed, Jake Arrieta‘s career transformation is one to behold.  In four years with the Orioles, Arrieta went 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA.  With the Cubs, Arrieta has gone 54-21 with a 2.52 ERA over the course of four years.  With the reigns loosened, and Arrieta given the green light to throw the way he wanted, he saw his SO/9 rate increase from 7.0 in Baltimore to 8.9 in Chicago.

As Arrieta gets set to pitch in a contract year, the Cubs organization is now faced with the difficult task of determining whether or not an extension deal can be made with the veteran right-hander.  Should the Cubs do whatever it takes to make it happen?  Brilliant as he’s been, there’s no simple answer to this question.  There’s a decent case to be made for either extending him or letting him walk after the season’s end.

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The case for re-signing him

Long known as “lovable losers,” the Chicago Cubs have completely re-branded themselves as one of the league’s preeminent powerhouses.  Jake Arrieta is one big reason why.  To let one of the driving forces behind the franchise’s return to relevancy walk would seem like a poor choice.

One of the major concerns about Arrieta right now is his age.  The 2015 NL Cy Young award winner will be entering his age-31 season and has expressed a desire to get a contract in the range of six to seven years.  The age factor for Arrieta can be, on its face, a bit misleading.

Though he has eight years of MLB experience under his belt, he’s only pitched a total of 992.2 innings.  Comparably, someone like Max Scherzer, who will be entering his age-32 season, has tallied a total of 1696.1 innings.  Even Clayton Kershaw, 28, has 1760.0 innings pitched in his career.  So, while yes, age should be a concern at least to some small degree, it’s worth noting that Arrieta has significantly less mileage on his arm than most other starting pitchers close to his age.

Also, as anyone who has covered him over the years can tell you, the guy is a bit of a fitness freak.  Sticking to a strict diet and working rigorously to stay in peak physical condition, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in better shape.  So again, age shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent here.

Fans would no doubt love to see the ace of their rotation stay put.  Even Arrieta has said he’d prefer to spend the rest of his career on the North Side.  Well-liked by his teammates and a fan-favorite of the Cubbie faithful, it’s safe to say many would love to see Arrieta stay in Cubs blue for the rest of his career.

The case for letting him walk

The Cubs have been described as a team poised to dominate for the next 10 years.  This is…not exactly true.  Five or six years from now, the Cubs roster is not going to look exactly like it does now.  Like always, the organization will have to be prepared to set themselves up for success beyond the present.

Consider this; Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez can all become free agents in 2022.  Anthony Rizzo is free agent eligible in 2020.  The likelihood of the Cubs being able to keep all of these guys for their whole careers is slim-to-none.  Now is the time for the Cubs to start considering who they want to be able to keep long-term, and how they’re going to do it.

This is where it starts getting tricky.  Arrieta has made clear the type of deal he’s after.  He was adamant last year that he is deserving of seven years, which is in line with what ace pitchers typically get.  As far as dollars go, you can expect his price tag will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $165-200 million.  With all the Chicago Cubs’ young stars on rookie contracts, you have to wonder if this would really be the best allocation of the team’s resources.

Worth it?

A team has to be prepared for the future in order to be a dynasty.  Giving this type of massive contract to Arrieta could make their quest to become a dynasty a pretty daunting task.  And as he’s stated, a hometown discount is off the table.

It’s hard to blame him.  He’s a big part of the Cubs’ transformation into perennial winners.  Dexter Fowler showed us as much.  He was beloved by teammates and fans alike, but the Cubs simply weren’t in a position to give him the kind of money he was after.  They now find themselves in a similar situation with Jake Arrieta.

They’ll have to measure whether or not the cost is worth the risk.  Jason Heyward has a $184 million deal, and the young studs are going to have to be paid pretty soon.  They’ll be arbitration eligible before they hit free agency.

Next: Cubs reveal rotation for first spring games

To extend or not to extend

One thing is certain; even if the Chicago Cubs don’t give him the money he wants, another team will.  The current free agent market for pitching is fairly underwhelming, and Arrieta would be a good fit in any rotation.

As of right now, nothing has materialized as far as we know.  Arrieta and the team may very well end up striking a deal, but it won’t come without potentially concomitant roster issues in the future.  There are good reasons for extending him or letting him walk.  Time will tell which outcome unfolds.  In the meantime, Eamus Catuli!