2:57pm: Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer casts significant doubt on the idea that the Phils will chase Arrieta. While the team tried for Tyler Chatwood and may yet attempt to land someone like Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, and will also look intro trades, Gelb writes flatly that the organization “will not spend” on top-of-the-market arms Arrieta and Yu Darvish.
GM Matt Klentak provided some thoughts that certainly support that viewpoint. He also indicated that part of the team’s strategy is to bolster the bullpen in order to limit the wear on the starting staff, which helps explain the team’s deal with Pat Neshek and pursuit of Addison Reed.
8:28am: The Phillies are considering a pursuit of free agent righty Jake Arrieta, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports (Twitter link). Arrieta is a known quantity to several Phils executives that used to work in the Orioles’ front office, as Arrieta was originally drafted and developed by the Baltimore organization.
While the Phils are still rebuilding, it has been widely assumed that the team will begin to spend to its usual levels as early as next winter, when several superstar free agents will hit the market. Signing Arrieta now would serve as a clear signal that the Phillies are ready to compete, plus having Arrieta in the fold would also serve as a good selling point to next year’s free agent crop. Philadelphia is also sorely in need of rotation help now, so the team could be deciding on making a big splash now when an ace they like is on the market, rather than test the trade or free agent waters in a year’s time. On the other hand, Arrieta would cost the Phils their second-highest draft pick and $500K in international bonus pool funds, as Arrieta rejected the Cubs’ qualifying offer.
The Brewers, Rockies, Twins, Blue Jays, Rangers, Astros, and Nationals have all expressed some degree of interest in Arrieta’s services, and Theo Epstein said yesterday that he would check in with Scott Boras, Arrieta’s agent, about the possibility of a return to the Cubs.
Despite this interest, it isn’t clear what Arrieta will earn on the open market, given his age (32 in March) and his somewhat lesser numbers in 2017, fueled in part by an increased home run rate. One executive told Sportsnet.ca’s Ben Nicholson-Smith that he has “no clue what [Arrieta] will get.” MLBTR ranked Arrieta fourth on our list of the winter’s Top 50 Free Agents and projected him for a four-year, $100MM deal.
Needless to say, Boras is aiming higher for his client. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports that Boras is marketing Arrieta by directly contacting MLB owners (rather than their front offices) with a 75-page booklet detailing the right-hander’s strengths. One team executive believes that Boras is seeking a deal in the $200MM range for Arrieta, though Boras said he hadn’t talked salary specifics with any teams.
As he outlined to Crasnick, Boras believes Arrieta offers a package of postseason success, durability, and relative lack of workload on his arm in terms of career innings. The main comparison seems to be Justin Verlander, whose seven-year, $180MM extension with the Tigers is at least in the ballpark of that alleged $200MM figure.
“I don’t put values on anything. I just look at performance,” Boras said. “I look at the marketplace and say, ’How does he stack up against the top pitchers in the game, and why?’….I give them all the book, and the onion starts to peel. And all of a sudden there’s only a small group left who do what Verlander, Arrieta and [Max] Scherzer do.”
Obviously there’s no small amount of salesmanship in Boras’ comments, and his method of directly approaching owners isn’t a new one; he has used the tactic to great effect in the past, particularly with the Nationals and Tigers. Two anonymous general managers, however, expressed doubt to Crasnick that Boras’ strategy is still as effective as it once was. While an $180MM-$200MM deal for Arrieta seems very optimistic, Boras does have a long track record of finding larger-than-expected contracts for his clients.