The Chicago Cubs extended $17.4 million qualifying offers to pitchers Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis. Both pitchers have ten days to decide whether to accept the one-year deal or become free agents. Both players are expected to decline the offer and test the market.
The rules about qualifying offers have changed this year, and you can read about the changes here. The compensation the Cubs will receive if either player leaves is based on whether or not they exceeded the luxury tax threshold in 2017. The Cubs did pay the luxury tax in 2016, but the threshold was raised with the new collective bargaining agreement and I believe that Cubs stayed under that in 2017, despite a higher payroll this year. Those figures are not officially announced for 2017 until December. But assuming that the Cubs are under, they will receive a draft pick at the end of the second round, after the small market teams pick.
Arrieta came to the Cubs in 2013 in a trade with the Orioles. He almost immediately turned his career around and won the 2015 Cy Young Award. He was also the winning pitcher in game 2 and game 6 of the 2016 World Series. This season, however, Arrieta was more mortal, going 14-8 with a 3.53 ERA. After leading the league in fewest hits allowed per nine innings in 2015 and 2016, Arrieta allowed eight hits per nine in 2017 and allowed 23 home runs. He gave up just 26 home runs in 2015 and 2015 combined. Arrieta also missed some starts with a hamstring problem, although he still made 30 starts this year.
While Al made the case for the Cubs re-signing Arrieta, it seems likely that they will not commit five years to a pitcher who turns 32 before Opening Day and who suffered a decline in 2017, even if he was still mostly a good pitcher.
The Cubs acquired Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade for Jorge Soler in the previous winter. Davis was terrific all season, saving a career-high 32 games in 33 chances and serving as the Cubs lone choice for the All-Star Game in Miami. While Davis showed signs of wearing down late in the season and in the postseason, there is little question that Davis is one of the best two or three relievers in the game.
The case to re-sign Davis is murkier than the case with Arrieta. Although Davis is also 32 years old, as a reliever for most of his career he’s put 300 fewer innings on his arm. He also did not show the same dip in performance in 2017 that Arrieta did.
But the main case for re-signing Davis is the weakness of the Cubs bullpen and the lack of other options. When the Cubs traded for Davis, he was expected to be a bridge to Carl Edwards Jr., who showed big-time stuff in 2016. But Edwards struggled badly with control in 2017, especially in the second-half of the season. By playoff time, it was clear that manager Joe Maddon couldn’t trust Edwards in high-leverage situations. While it is certainly possible that was just a blip in Edwards career and that he will live up to his potential in the future, that may not be a gamble the Cubs can afford to take.
While the Cubs could go after Davis’ former teammate in Kansas City, Greg Holland, in free agency, the market for relief pitchers is tight and the Cubs will need more than just one. It seems to make the most sense to bring Davis back on a four-year deal, but again, it’s going to depend on what other teams are willing to offer Davis. The good news is that there are not many competitive teams in the market for a closer. The Astros might depending on whether they think Ken Giles post-season struggles are real. The Angels and Mariners need one, if you think they are contenders. The Cardinals might, but they seem more likely to address their offensive issues in free agency. Then there are the Twins and the Rockies. It would be out of character for the frugal Twins to spend a lot on a closer and it would be out of character for any pitcher to sign with the Rockies if they had other options.
So in short, it seems quite possible that Davis is back in Wrigley Field next summer. But it certainly is not guaranteed.
So stay tuned.