Jake Arrieta has been one of the Cubs’ most important players over the past two seasons, winning the 2015 NL Cy Young Award, throwing two no-hitters, and helping lead the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years. While Arrieta began to come back down to Earth in the middle of last season, he is still one of baseball's top pitchers, and is set to be a free agent his offseason.
It's no surprise that Arrieta's decline in performance, dating back to late June of last year, has also coincided with a decline in his velocity. While it's a small sample size of 18⅔ innings, Arrieta's velocity has drastically been down this year relative to his past two seasons. In his three starts of 2017, Arrieta has averaged just 91.6 miles per hour on his fastball, a far cry from his 2014-2016 average of 93.8 MPH. In fact, Arrieta's quickest fastball this year, 93.4 miles per hour, comes up a bit short of his average of 93.6 miles per hour last year. As I said, this is an extremely small sample size, and pitchers typically gain a bit more velocity in the middle of the season as their arms loosen up, but this sharp decline in velocity is something that can't be ignored when considered an extension.
Arrieta's drop in velocity is perhaps a reason for his decline in limiting hard contact as well. In 2016, Arrieta posted a hard contact percentage of 25.2 percent, his highest in his past three years. This year, Arrieta has a hard contact percentage of 28.3 percent. Again, this is a small sample size. Arrieta's soft contact percentage has also increased by more than three percentage points this year, which can partially be attributed to his early success this season. Arrieta has enough movement on his pitches to limit hard contact against him, but his declining velocity and lack of control have hindered his effectiveness over the last 10 months, and could be signs indicative of his future as a starter. Arrieta had a BB/9 rate of 3.47, nearly a walk and a half higher than his 2015-2016 average of 2.08.
Past contracts that are worth examining when gauging a potential Arrieta deal are those of Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke. In 2015 at age 30, Scherzer signed a contract for $210 million over seven years. With payments distributed over 14 years, the Nats essentially gave Scherzer a then-present-day value of $177 million for seven years, equating to an AAV of just over $25 million. Arrieta will be 32 by the time the 2018 season starts, two years older than Scherzer when he signed his mega-deal. Additionally, Scherzer had two top-five Cy Young seasons prior to free agency, including the 2013 AL Cy Young Award. Arrieta has three straight top-10 Cy Young finished, including his magical 2015 second half which propelled him to the 2015 NL Cy Young Award. Arrieta's past performance is on par with Scherzer's, but he'll be two years older than Scherzer when he hits the market, and assuming that Arrieta pitches 180 innings this year, he'll only have 70 fewer MLB innings on his arm than Scherzer did when he hit free agency.
Greinke signed his deal with the Diamondbacks in December 2015 for six years, worth a whopping $206.5 million. Greinke was 32 when the season started last year, the same age Arrieta will be next March. Grienke had over 2,000 major-league innings on his arm by the time he signed that contract, with four top-10 Cy Young Award finishes, winning the AL award in 2009, and coming in second to Arrieta in 2015. Greinke's AAV is an outrageous $34 million, a contract that will pay him through his age-37 season.
The early returns one the two contracts mentioned above have been mixed. Scherzer has done nothing but run through the National League, recording two top-five NL Cy Young finishes, including winning the award last year, while leading the league in innings pitched, strikeouts, and WHIP. Greinke, on the other hand, had an underwhelming 2016, to say the least. Greinke pitched to a 4.37 ERA last season, and didn't surpass 160 innings pitched. Unless Greinke turns it around over the next few years, his contract will go down as one of the worst in the history of baseball. Based off of these past two contracts, I would expect that Arrieta lands a seven year deal for around $180 million.
With all of the young talent that the Cubs have at their disposal, the Cubs will begin to think about locking up Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell to long term contacts in the near future. If the Cubs were to lock Arrieta down, the Cubs would be on the hook for three massive contracts, each totaling over $100 million. This is one of the primary reasons I believe the Cubs won't resign Arrieta, as the front office has shown that young, cost controlled hitting is arguably baseball's hottest commodity, and this belief is what the organization has built its recent success on.
Additionally, if the Cubs were to lose Arrieta, they would still have two front-line starters in Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks for the next four years. Waiting in the wings are Dylan Cease, Duane Underwood Jr., and Oscar De La Cruz. Each of these pitchers still have a long road ahead of them, but I would expect to see all three in a major league rotation by 2019 at the latest. The Cubs still have expendable prospects that they can use to acquire front line pitching in Eloy Jimenz and Ian Happ; I would expect one of them to be traded in the future to acquire a TOR arm.
Arrieta has shown that he can be dominant. He had the best second half of any starting pitcher in the history of baseball during the 2015 season, going 12-1 with a 0.75 ERA in 15 starts. Jake! probably won't ever return, but that doesn't mean he can't be a very effective starter in the coming years. There are signs of an inevitable decline in the future, and perhaps it's coming sooner rather than later, but Arrieta will still be the top pitcher available as a free agent this winter. Should the Cubs re-sign him?
Should the Cubs extend Jake Arrieta?
This poll is closed
Depends on the cost