We don’t yet know if Jake Arrieta can get back even close to the level he set for himself from mid-2015 through early 2016. Overall in 2016 he was very good, though not up to his 2015 form. His postseason numbers were about the same as he’d done over the second half of 2016.
What we do know is that this provision of the new MLB collective-bargaining agreement will make it more likely that players becoming free agents will be able to find a new team:
Turns out draft-pick compensation won't disappear. Teams over threshold lose a 2nd- & 5th-round pick. Under threshold: lose 3rd-round pick.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 1, 2016
The “threshold” referred to in that tweet is the luxury-tax threshold, meaning that any team that signs a qualifying-offer free agent will lose a pick, but no one loses a first-round pick anymore. There’s also this new limitation:
Team that loses QO free agent will get pick only if player signs contract of $50M+. Pick it gets will depend upon that team’s market size.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 1, 2016
In Arrieta’s case, this would almost certainly apply.
In practice, I’d expect this to mean that many more teams would look at QO free agents, since the compensation doesn’t hit them as seriously as the current system.
When the Cubs and Arrieta were talking about a multi-year extension last offseason, Jake made it clear he was looking for a deal for up to seven years -- similar to the contract Justin Verlander signed. Verlander did recover from a couple of mediocre years after that deal was completed to have an excellent 2016, nearly returning to his previous level.
Jake Arrieta turns 31 in March, so any free-agent deal he signs after this season is over will encompass his age-32 season and beyond. A team signing him to a seven-year contract at that time gets him through age 38. It’s certainly possible that Jake could be effective into his late 30s, but there’s never any certainty of that.
I can’t see the Cubs pouring the kind of money Jake will want into that sort of deal after 2017. They’ll have to be prepared to start paying guys like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell at that point, as well as finding a replacement for John Lackey in the rotation, as Lackey’s likely to retire after 2017.
So I think it’s reasonably certain that the Cubs will be bidding farewell to Jake Arrieta after 2017. It would also seem reasonably certain that the Cubs would, by that time, have had the benefit of Jake’s best years.
There’s one more interesting note about the new qualifying-offer rules. You might want to call this the “Dexter Fowler rule”:
Some additional details on new CBA coming, starting with this: A player no longer can receive a qualifying offer more than once.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 1, 2016
The new CBA doesn’t provide for complete free agency. In some ways, though, it does make it easier for guys like Arrieta to find big money from new teams.