Chicago Cubs: Jake Arrieta could pitch himself back into the Cubs’ price range

Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta walks back to the dugout after retiring the Cleveland Indians in the first inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta walks back to the dugout after retiring the Cleveland Indians in the first inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Once a foregone conclusion that Jake Arrieta would be too expensive for the Chicago Cubs’ to resign, his recent struggles may put him back within their price range.

Coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season, many thought that Jake Arrieta was going to be the next $200 million arm.

When he started off 2016 11-1 with a 1.74 ERA (and another no-hitter to boot), some were thinking if the Cubs should extend him right then so he wouldn’t further price himself out of their range, if he hadn’t already.

Ever since then he’s looked mediocre at best, with this season being a huge step down from previous ones. In eight starts so far this season he’s currently sitting at a 5.44 ERA and 1.455 WHIP, all while seeing his fastball velocity take a dip down.

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Whether Arrieta’s best years are behind him or he’s suffering an extended slump is unknown, but he is slowly bringing his price tag down the more he struggles. With that being said, could he bring his price down enough to where the Cubs could afford him? And if he did, would the Cubs even want to?

That’s a difficult question to answer, let alone ask. First, we don’t know what the Cubs would offer now that it appears that Arrieta is a different pitcher than he used to be. Second, would Arrieta want to go back to the Cubs, knowing that they’d most likely be giving him what they think he’s worth and not what he’s done for the organization?

We’ll try to answer some of these questions and even put on our best GM hat and try to figure out what a fair contract would look like.

So would the Cubs even want Arrieta back? Probably. They only have two starters under contract after this season (Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester), and there are no pitchers in the minors currently who’ll be ready by next year, so they’ll need all the help they can get.

It all depends on how bad the team wants him. He’s been compared to Max Scherzer regarding what he could get. Scherzer received a seven-year, $210 million deal, and Arrieta definitely won’t get that now, not from the Cubs or from anybody.

If Arrieta continues to struggle all season long – and of course we hope he doesn’t – to the tune of a, let’s say, 4.00 ERA, 1.200 WHIP with the continued decrease in velocity of his fastball then we could be looking at a contract vastly different than what we previously thought he was worth.

First, the length will be significantly shorter. Arrieta will be 31 going on 32 once he hits free agency, and it’s rare that teams hand out six-seven year deals to aging pitchers coming off a bad season. Something around a three-four-five year deal would probably be agreed upon, but for how much?

Over at Sports monetary website Spotrac, they have a nifty feature that estimates how much a player will get, and Arrieta is approximated at a five-year, $144 million contract, which would give him around $28 million per year. I think it’s safe to say that if the righty ends 2017 on a sour note than he won’t be getting that contract for a few reasons.

In addition to the reasons already mentioned, Spotrac also went ahead and gave comps to Arrieta:

There are a few things working against Arrieta. First is the age. He’ll be older than all of those players by at least a year when they were in their primes. Second, those players were coming off strong seasons, where they averaged a 3.24 ERA and 1.114 WHIP with 209 K, which are numbers Arrieta is unlikely to get after his cold start.

If we take the average-per-year salary of those four pitchers, then it comes out at $28 million a year. As previously mentioned it’s unlikely Arrieta will get a six-seven year deal like those other pitchers, but a three-four-five year deal with that per-year salary is not a bad starting point.

At the exact salary, the contract would be either a three-year, $84 million, four-year, $112 million or $five year, 140 million deal. It’s safe to assume that if Arrieta struggles then the last deal is out of the question. In fact, giving $28 million per year to a guy coming off two ok/less-than-stellar seasons is pretty risky, so we’ll go ahead and lower that number.

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Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ll set the number at $23 million per year. That would put the contracts at $69, $92 and $115 million, which looks pretty good from our viewpoint. We’ll also set the exact length of the contract at four years, so assuming Arrieta continues his down year then he’ll be looking at, in our opinion, a four-year, $92 million deal.

Would he take that deal? Maybe, depending on what other clubs offer him. Pitching hungry teams looking to put together a contender may offer him more regarding both years and salary, so it all comes down to if Arrieta wants to stay with the Cubs.

The Cubs may not even offer a contract like that if Arrieta is coming off a bad year. Yes they have money to spend, but they’d probably rather spend big on a proven guy coming off a big year, or maybe they’ll wait until after next year when EVERYBODY is a free agent?

Of course, all this is assuming Arrieta continues his struggles. It’s entirely possible he picks up where he left off in 2014-2015 and is one of the best starters in the game. If that happens, then he’ll pitch himself out of the Cubs price range, which is what many have assumed he’d do in the first place.

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Arrieta’s been an invaluable part of the Cubs the past few years. They wouldn’t have won the World Series without him, though the business side of the sport may make it so it’s unlikely he’ll pitch for the team again after this season.

He’ll get that big payday, but most likely not with the Cubs.