By Bruce Levine–
(670 The Score) — The top starting pitchers on the free-agent market have yet to find new homes this offseason, part of a trend in which some 150 players are still languishing in limbo with about six weeks until spring training.
One of the top free agents available is right-hander Jake Arrieta, who hit the open market after four-and-a-half superb seasons with the Cubs. His market is picking up a bit lately, with the Cubs and Cardinals showing the most interest in him, according to sources.
The Cubs would be willing to offer Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, a four-year deal in the $110-million range, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported. Those numbers would be consistent with the Cubs’ measured approach to the offseason and initial line of demarcation for being involved in the Arrieta bidding. Led by powerful agent Scott Boras, Arrieta’s camp asked for a six-year, $162-million deal at the onset of free agency in November.
Two offseasons ago, the Cubs discussed a four-year, $88-million deal with Arrieta after his brilliant Cy Young-winning season.
Like the Cubs, the Cardinals desire a frontline starter and a closer as the 2018 season approaches. Right-hander Alex Reyes has ace potential for St. Louis, but he’s coming off Tommy John surgery last year. Right-hander Carlos Martinez also has ace stuff but wasn’t always dominant in going 12-11 with a 3.64 ERA and 1.22 WHIP last season, dropping off from his performances in 2015 and 2016.
Right-hander Michael Wacha and right-hander Adam Wainwright remain viable back-of-the-rotation members, but both struggled for long stretches of 2017. The Cardinals also signed right-hander Miles Mikolas for depth after he played in Japan. All said, it’s a staff that needs another reliable top starter, and Arrieta could perhaps fill that role.
As much as Boras would like to start a bidding war — he can use the selling point that Arrieta’s destination will decide the NL Central — the idea of a Cubs-Cardinals battle for Arrieta may be a bit overstated knowing that right-hander Yu Darvish is still a frontline starter available in free agency. What Arrieta can hang his hat on is that he has performed better in the postseason, winning three elimination games in recent seasons and sporting a career 5-3 mark with a 3.08 ERA in the playoffs.
Darvish struggled mightily in the 2017 World Series, giving up a combined nine runs across 3 1/3 innings in two starts. It was later revealed that he was tipping his pitches against the Astros. Darvish has a career 5.81 ERA in six playoff starts. It’s possible the postseason performance difference between Arrieta and Darvish could affect a team’s evaluation.
The Cubs and Cardinals have also each checked in on Rays closer Alex Colome on the trade market. Colome has 84 saves combined across the past two seasons. Closers Greg Holland and Addison Reed also remain available on the free-agent market.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.