MARCH 8, 7:46pm: USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Cubs and Arrieta had discussions early in the winter, but the team wasn’t interested in making an offer greater than five total years (Twitter link). It’s not 100 percent clear whether that means five years including the upcoming campaign or five years on top of Arrieta’s $10.7MM salary for the coming season, but if talks were early enough in the winter, they likely predated that arbitration agreement, so it seems reasonable to infer that the Cubs were interested in locking up the 2016-20 seasons (two arb years and three free-agent seasons). Arrieta, Nightengale adds, was seeking “at least” seven years, which lines up with Heyman’s initial report.
3:00pm: President of baseball operations Theo Epstein says that the team doesn’t feel any pressure to reach a deal in the near term, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports in a series of tweets (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6). He called the discussions thus far productive in “provid[ing] a foundation for something to get done down the road” and noted there’s “no hard deadline, but there are no active talks.”
10:14am: Arrieta confirmed to reporters that there have been talks. They “go back to last fall and winter,” sources tell Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com (via Twitter). The righty says that Chicago’s range of years didn’t line up with what he was looking for, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports (links to Twitter). “I want to stay here for six or seven years, and that’s it,” he said while emphasizing that he does hope to remain with the organization for the long haul.
Arrieta also suggested he’d “prefer to not have a lot of open dialogue about [an extension] during the season,” as Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune reports (video link). Talks haven’t been extensive, he said, in part because the front office “kind of know[s] the ballpark of where [a deal] needs to be.”
MARCH 7: The Cubs briefly explored a “mega extension” with ace righty Jake Arrieta, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (links to Twitter), but the sides wrapped up their discussions when it became apparent they would not see eye to eye on the length of a prospective new contract. The Scott Boras client was believed to be seeking a seven-year pact, per the report.
While that term of years was apparently a non-starter for Chicago, Heyman adds that the Cubs front office appears to be willing to re-open talks again in the future. Arrieta recently agreed to a $10.7MM deal to avoid arbitration for the coming season, and can be controlled for one additional campaign through the arb process before qualifying for free agency.
Arrieta turned 30 yesterday, so he doesn’t exactly have his youngest years left to sell. But he’s also turned into one of the game’s most dominant starters, as evidenced by his Cy Young award last year. Arrieta’s career revival in Chicago was already remarkable, but after that 2015 campaign he could be set up as a premium free agent after the 2017 season.
Last year, Arrieta spun 229 frames of 1.77 ERA pitching, racking up 9.3 K/9 against just 1.9 BB/9 with a 56.2% groundball rate. That remarkable run was good enough to edge out the Dodgers’ outstanding duo of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to take home honors as the National League’s best hurler. Though he wasn’t quite as effective in his later postseason outings, Arrieta also spun a complete game shutout to lead the Cubs to a wild card play-in victory.
As things stand, a hypothetical seven-year contract would take Arrieta through at least his age-36 season (assuming a deal would have covered the season to come). We’ve seen very few lengthy extensions of pitchers with at least four years of service time, with Cole Hamels (six years, $144MM) and Kershaw (seven years, $215MM) looking like the most reasonable comparables. Of course, both of those pitchers were both younger and had accumulated an additional year of service at the time they reached their deals.
More recent market developments would certainly also come into play. We’ve seen pitchers like Max Scherzer (seven years, $210MM), David Price (seven years, $217MM), and Greinke (six years, $206.5MM) top the $200MM threshold in recent seasons, and Arrieta will no doubt hope to land in a similar range if he can maintain anything close to his current level of performance. Greinke, in particular, represents a notable data point, as he’s slightly older now than Arrieta will be when he qualifies for free agency — showing that somewhat older arms can still land massive deals.
Of course, committing to that kind of deal at this point, with two years of control still remaining, is quite a different proposition for a club. If nothing else, Arrieta would surely be forced to give a discount for his arb years and distance from the open market.