By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Set to hit free agency after the 2017 season, Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is paying close attention to how the baseball world is reacting to the seven-year, $175-million deal that Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg signed earlier this week.
Projecting whether the 30-year-old Arrieta will get a long-term deal like the 27-year-old Strasburg did before he hits free agency is still somewhat of a guessing game.
“As far as the numbers go, I don’t think it surprises many people,” Arrieta said of Strasburg’s big deal. “Obviously, it’s a really big contract for a guy who had (elbow ligament surgery). That is the price for starting pitching, especially really good starting pitching.”
From the perspective of the Cubs brass, a shorter-term commitment to Arrieta would probably be ideal. A four-year, $84-million offer was discussed in the offseason, sources said. That average of $21 million annually makes sense in some ways but not necessarily from perspective of the player or agent.
On Wednesday, Arrieta made clear that he wants to remain in Chicago and also that there won’t be a hometown discount for the Cubs.
“No,” was his emphatic answer to the direct question.
Unlike many top players nearing free-agent status, Arrieta has had open conversations with Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer about his contract situation over the last year. This type of communication is highly unusual, especially for a Scott Boras clients.
“Yeah, I don’t see why it wouldn’t,” Arrieta said about the open relationship continuing with Epstein and Hoyer. “Really most of the focus has to stay on what we are trying to accomplish today (winning games). Financially, I am fine regardless. That makes this easier for me as well as my teammates, just to focus on winning as many games as we can. The contract stuff will work itself out. If we keep winning, those kinds of things all work themselves out in time.”
Arrieta sees a few comparable aspects to his situation and Strasburg’s but not that many. Arrieta’s three years older. He has never had the arm trauma like Strasburg did in having Tommy John surgery.
Arrieta has been an elite starter ever since being acquired by the Cubs in a July 2013 trade with the Orioles. Arrieta is 42-13 with a 2.15 ERA in his Chicago tenure, which includes a 2015 season in which he won the National League Cy Young award after going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA.
While not to Arrieta’s level, Strasburg has been a top-line starter as well, with a career 3.07 ERA.
“I have put myself in a position where talks are coming up pretty routinely,” Arrieta said. “Let’s just deal with it on a day-to-day basis and go from there. I really don’t put a whole lot of thought to it. I know you guys (the media) want to talk about it. Until something materializes, there is really not much to talk about.”
Arrieta has had an especially remarkable run since last July, over which he’s going 22-1 with an ERA below 1.00. In the offseason, Arrieta and the Cubs settled for $10.7 million contract to avoid arbitration. That figure was a record number, representing the most ever for a second-year arbitration-eligible pitcher.
Arrieta will make $20 million or more in arbitration next offseason if he stays healthy.
“You want to be paid in respect to how your peers are paid,” Arrieta said. “I don’t think that changes with any guy you ask. Guys want to be compensated fairly. If something comes up, I prefer it’s not dragged out. Let’s just continue to help carry this team to the postseason.”
On Tuesday, Epstein was asked if the Strasburg contract will impact the Arrieta conversations.
“It does not impact us too much,” Epstein said. “Obviously, it will impact markets. We have to operate in markets. It is what it is.”
Epstein added he has nothing to report on a new deal for any of his players or himself at this point, saying it was “status quo.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.