By Bruce Levine–

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — The pitcher who has won the most games in baseball the past two seasons is hoping to stay with the team with which he has flourished.

Right-hander Jake Arrieta can become a free agent in nine months, and a long-term contract with the Cubs has been a topic of conversation since late in 2015.

Arrieta, who turns 31 in March, loves his team and the city of Chicago. The question of how much he is worth to the Cubs or on the open market is a key element of this equation. The price of poker for this type of arm is currently $25 million-plus per season, and any team that gets in the bidding must be concerned that the contract would start in his age-32 season.

For now, the ball is in the Cubs’ court. They’re the only team able to negotiate with Arrieta and the Boras corporation that represents him.

Arrieta has won 40 games in the past two years, over which he’s averaged 234 innings per season when including the postseason workload. The fact that Arrieta was a broken pitcher when he was acquired from the Orioles in the summer of 2013 is now a distant memory. Command issues in aside, he was the hardest pitcher to hit in the big leagues during the 2016 campaign, with an MLB-leading .194 opponents’ batting average.

This all leads back to the question about staying a Cub for the long term.

“There is an open dialogue there,” Arrieta said Wednesday. “I believe we will have talks. That is not my No. 1 priority. I just wanted to focus on my health and coming into camp as well rested in as good of shape as I can. That is the position I am in. If we have those conversations, we will get some things out. We will see if we can get some things worked out. If it happens, great. If not, I will continue to move forward and focus on being as good as I can.”

Knowing that this may be his last year as a Cub certainly will go through Arrieta’s mind if a long-term deal isn’t reached.

“Time moves really quickly,” Arrieta said. “It just seems like only a few months ago, I was traded over here and started my career as a Cub in 2013. I have had some incredible experiences with this team. I owe a lot to this organization and ownership. I do not want to see that time come to an end. The business side of the game shows its head from time to time. I still think there are chances we can have good conversations as far as an extension is concerned. We can get some good things done.”

In any upcoming negotiations, Arrieta is in a better position because of the dearth of starting pitching in the Cubs minor league system. Some quality talent is coming through the system, but it appears a few years away.

For now, a deal that satisfies both Arrieta and the Cubs sensible.

“Once you get to a certain point of your career financially, it’s easier to put that out of your mind,” Arrieta said about the contract talks possibly going on this season. “Financially, it’s not a big worry for me individually.

“The less that can be a distraction to this team, the better. I don’t typically like to verbalize from an individual contract situation. It can take away from things we are trying to do collectively. I don’t mind addressing and talking about it if those things do come up. My main focus is to try and help these guys to prepare for our season this year.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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