SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — News item: Mike Moustakas, one of the top free-agent position players this offseason, is returning to his former team, the Royals, on a very team-friendly contract:
Mike Moustakas has agreed to a one-year deal with a mutual second-year option with the Kansas City Royals, according to sources. The deal, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, guarantees him $6.5 million and can max out at $22.7 million.
As Josh pointed out earlier today in MLB Bullets, the “mutual option” for 2019 is almost certainly not going to be exercised and Moustakas likely hits the free-agent market again next offseason. The (approximately) $7 million Moustakas can make with incentives this year is about $10 million less than he would have received if he had just taken the Royals’ qualifying offer last November.
There are a number of ways you can read this signing. “Panic” is one of them; Moustakas is one of several big-name free agents represented by Scott Boras, and it would appear to me here that Moustakas likely told Boras that he wanted to play baseball this year and to get him signed.
Since this signing became public Thursday night, I received a number of communications, through Twitter and otherwise, that this means the Cubs could and should re-sign Jake Arrieta. The implication is that since Moustakas came back to his previous team so cheaply, so should Jake.
That’s wrong on any number of levels.
The first is simply this: The Cubs have already set their rotation, and it’s shaping up to be a good one, top to bottom. Theo Epstein stated at the time the Cubs signed Yu Darvish that Darvish was the team’s “No. 1 target” this offseason, and they added Tyler Chatwood on a pretty reasonable contract. Darvish was deemed to have a better future than Arrieta; the report that Arrieta had supposedly received a call just before the Darvish signing making him the same (or a similar) offer has been widely debunked.
But the commenters said, “Move Chatwood to the bullpen!” That would be silly — you’d wind up with a $13 million setup man, if Chatwood were even good in the role. That would also have a ripple effect on other relievers, who are beginning to hone their craft to fit the roles they’ve been given this year. Really, all Chatwood has to do is be better than 2017 John Lackey to be a success — and I believe there is a non-zero chance that Chatwood might actually have a better 2018 than Arrieta, based on his road record the last two years. He had the majors’ best road ERA in 2016 and posted a 3.49 ERA away from Coors Field in 2017.
Lastly, there’s the matter of money. According to this spreadsheet, the Cubs currently have approximately $184 million in salary obligations for 2018. That’s before including the actual figures for renewal of the 0-3 year pre-arb players, who are projected in that spreadsheet to make a total of $4.05 million. That number could turn out to be somewhat higher, depending on how generous Theo & Co. are with pre-arb guys like Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Mike Montgomery, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Carl Edwards Jr.
The $184 million figure leaves approximately $13 million for the Cubs to spend on a mid-season acquisition (if they stay under the luxury tax limit of $197 million); that number is likely going to be a bit lower. If the Cubs were to spend (say) $10 million on Arrieta, that would leave almost nothing for mid-season deals. You never know what injuries or needs might arise during the season, and it’s wise for Theo & Co. to leave some money available. Since the team has made it clear they’re going to stay under that luxury-tax cap, they simply don’t have any financial room to sign Jake.
Look, I get it. Jake Arrieta gave the Cubs four and a half pitching seasons which ranged from very good to utterly magnificent. He threw two no-hitters and was a key part of the Cubs’ World Series championship team in 2016. For all of that, we will remember him fondly and always be grateful.
But this is 2018, not 2015 or 2016, and times and teams move on. We thank Jake for his great run in Chicago and he will forever be a Cubs champion.
And in 2018, Jake Arrieta will be wearing someone else’s uniform — there’s a report Friday morning that the Padres might be a “mystery team” where Jake might land. If he wants to play baseball this year and not play the dangerous game of sitting out till midseason, he had better hurry.