The Phillies have officially inked right-hander Jake Arrieta, as Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia first reported on Twitter. It’ll be a three-year, $75MM contract for the Scott Boras client, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
Arrieta will earn $30MM in 2018, $25MM in 2019 and $20MM in 2020, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag reports (links to Twitter). Arrieta can choose to opt out of the deal after the second season, though interestingly, the contract also allows the Phillies to “void” the opt-out by picking up a two-year option that would extend the contract through the 2021-22 seasons.
Should the Phils override the opt-out, they would pay Arrieta a base salary of $20MM in each of the two additional years. But those option-year salaries aren’t fixed. Games-started escalators (presumably, based upon 2019 tallies) can boost the values by as much as $5MM, with the escalators beginning at 25 starts and maxing out if and when Arrieta takes the ball for a 31st time. He can escalate those salaries further by finishing in the top-five of the N.L. Cy Young voting in either 2018 or 2019; the annual rate on the potential extra years goes up by $5MM with a top-three finish or by $3MM if Arrieta finishes fourth or fifth. The contract also includes a $1MM assignment bonus provision.
Up until Sunday, the 32-year-old Arrieta ranked as the best free agent remaining in what has been a famously slow-moving market since it opened in November. Back then, MLBTR forecast a four-year, $100MM pact for Arrieta, who’s coming off a four-plus-year run with the Cubs in which he was one of baseball’s best pitchers.
During his stretch in Chicago from 2013-17, the former Orioles castoff won a Cy Young (2015) and a World Series (2016), and he pitched to a 2.73 ERA/3.16 FIP with 8.89 K/9, 2.73 BB/9 and a 50.6 percent groundball rate over 803 innings. Arrieta fell off somewhat last year, however, with a 3.53 ERA/4.16 FIP over 168 1/3 frames. While Arrieta again offered strong strikeout and walk numbers (8.71 K/9, 2.94 BB/9), his grounder (45.1 percent) and swinging-strike rates (8.7; down from 10 percent as a Cub) each trended in the wrong direction. He also experienced a drop in velocity, going from upward of 94 mph with his fastball in each of the previous five seasons to 92.6.
With last year’s decline in mind, it’s less surprising that free agency didn’t go as planned for Arrieta. It’s also not surprising that the Phillies were willing to reel him in at a discounted rate. Phillies president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak emphasized throughout the offseason that they weren’t interested in signing anyone to an overly long deal, but they did suggest they’d be willing to pay extra for shorter-term pacts. Arrieta is now the fourth noteworthy free agent to whom they’ve guaranteed three or fewer years since December.
Previously, the Phillies landed first baseman Carlos Santana (three years, $60MM) and the relief duo of Tommy Hunter (two years, $18MM) and Pat Neshek (two years, $16.25MM). Despite those signings, the big-market Phillies entered Sunday with plenty of spending room, and they still figure to fall short of last year’s $100MM Opening Day payroll even in the wake of their expensive Arrieta agreement.
All of those additions certainly aren’t guaranteed to lead to immediate contention for the Phillies, who registered their sixth straight non-playoff season and their fifth consecutive sub-.500 year in 2017. But the Arrieta pickup could be particularly helpful to a team whose projected rotation otherwise wouldn’t have featured any proven options beyond Aaron Nola. He and Arrieta should form a quality one-two punch and perhaps help the Phillies return to contention in 2018 as part of a National League that features three clear favorites – Arrieta’s previous team, the Cubs, as well as the Dodgers and Nationals. Washington, which was a speculative landing spot for Arrieta, will now have to deal with him as an opponent in its division, though the Nationals are still the obvious NL East front-runners over the Mets, Phillies, Braves and Marlins.
Despite their recent run of irrelevance, the Phillies clearly regard themselves as a team on the upswing, as their free agent splashes indicate. After losing their second-highest draft pick in 2018 and $500K in international bonus pool to sign Santana, who rejected the Indians’ qualifying offer, they’ll surrender their third-highest selection (No. 79) and another $500K for Arrieta. The Cubs, who qualified Arrieta in November, will collect a compensatory pick after the second round. They seem well equipped to move on without Arrieta, having added this offseason’s top free agent starter, Yu Darvish (six years, $126MM), and Tyler Chatwood to a rotation that will also feature Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester.
Boras hoped to outdo Darvish’s pact with Arrieta, given that the latter has the better track record of production, but he has instead seen another of his clients collect a lower-than-expected payday. To Boras’ credit, a pair of his players – first baseman Eric Hosmer ($144MM) and slugger J.D. Martinez ($110MM) – did receive two of this free agent class’s three richest guarantees. On the other hand, before Arrieta reached an agreement, Carlos Gonzalez ($8MM), Mike Moustakas ($6.5MM) and Carlos Gomez ($4MM) each signed for relatively underwhelming amounts. Now, reliever Greg Holland is the last high-end Boras client remaining on a shrinking market as Opening Day draws closer.
Nightengale and Jon Heyman of FanRag first reported that the Phillies and Arrieta were headed toward a deal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.