The Cubs “put in one last call” to Jake Arrieta before completing their six-year, $126MM deal with Yu Darvish, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Heyman says Epstein respectfully inquired as to whether Arrieta would have been willing to accept “a deal believed to be similar to the one offered to Darvish should Darvish turn them down.” According to Heyman, “while Arrieta surely appreciated the gesture, he wasn’t immediately prepared to accept a six-year deal for what was believed to be for a similar annual salary.”
A careful reading of Heyman’s phrasing is advised, as he at no point states that the Cubs actually made a six-year offer to Arrieta. Nor could one accurately say Arrieta turned down a six-year offer from the Cubs, as we erroneously did in an earlier version of this post. Last Wednesday, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that “the Cubs and Arrieta barely even engaged in contract talks this winter.” If that’s correct, it would be odd for Epstein to even have made an intimation of a six-year offer around that same time.
It isn’t uncommon for teams or their free agents to touch base with each other one final time before either side is on the verge of a move, either out of mutual respect and/or genuine interest to see if a deal could be reached. (For one example from this winter, Carlos Santana’s representatives kept the Indians up to date on his market just to leave open the possibility that the Tribe could’ve found the payroll space to keep Santana in Cleveland.) It also isn’t an uncommon tactic for a team to approach several similarly-valued free agents with similar contact offers to see which, if any, accepts first.
Certainly, it doesn’t seem that Arrieta or his agent Scott Boras felt the need to jump at the Cubs’ offer, as Boras is still confident his client will land a deal closer to the much higher price tag Boras was reportedly seeking earlier this offseason. While the lack of free agent activity around the sport is “not traditional,” Boras said, “it seems normal (now). The free agent market is now under way. For me, it’s December 10th, not February 10th.” Heyman gives an idea of Arrieta’s possible current asking price, writing, “Some might have seen the Cubs’ last-minute inquiry as a chance to end a difficult free-agent season happily, but others understood that Arrieta probably wasn’t going to take a much lower deal than Jon Lester’s in light of the fact that a strong case could be made he’s outperformed Lester over the last few years.” Heyman’s “case” for Arrieta as compared to Lester is certainly worth debating. Lester signed a six-year, $155MM deal with the Cubs on the eve of his 31st birthday, on the back of a huge walk year that resulted in a fourth-place Cy Young finish and a big market bidding war. Arrieta turns 32 soon and is coming off a good, but not great, year. He’s also battling a historically slow free agent market that is likely to leave at least a few big names disappointed.
Heyman lists the Brewers, Nationals, Phillies, Twins, and Cardinals as “the most logical teams” that could still make a play for Arrieta, though he notes that the latter two clubs seem like longer shots. Milwaukee, Washington, and Philadelphia have all been linked to Arrieta at various points this winter and, now that Darvish is off the board, Arrieta might be the top target for a Brewers team that has money to spend and a need for front-of-the-rotation pitching. The Phillies also have a glaring rotation need but may still be a year away from serious spending (their deal with Santana notwithstanding), while the Nats would have to carve out payroll space or simply accept a big luxury tax overage in order to sign Arrieta.