By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — As ace left-hander Jon Lester showed a sign of mortality by hitting the disabled list Friday, right-hander and fellow top-of-the-rotation member Jake Arrieta registered another strong outing in the Cubs’ 7-4 win against the Blue Jays at Wrigley Field.
It continued a resurgence for the 31-year-old Arrieta, who’s now 5-1 with a 2.00 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break after firing 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball Friday. And with Lester on the shelf for a couple weeks, each outing that Arrieta makes like that stands more and more crucial and also reminds of important questions.
What’s his value to this team? And will Arrieta return to the Cubs once he hits free agency this November?
Since being acquired from the Orioles in July 2013, Arrieta has had a terrific run with the Cubs, winning 69.7 percent of his decisions and compiling a 2.73 ERA. He’s been a leading figure in a Cubs rotation that has spearheaded the team’s jump into first place in the NL Central with a strong surge out of the All-Star break.
Arrieta is now 13-8 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.20 WHIP for the season.
“Our rotation has been performing pretty well,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “The good thing is not only the results with Jake but how he has been doing it. His fastball is moving all over the place. His slider is better than it has been all year. That has been huge for him. That allows him to be himself and pitch the way he wants to.”
So, will the Cubs try and convince Arrieta and super-agent Scott Boras to give them the first — and long — look in free agency? Epstein refused to delve into the chances of Arrieta returning to the Cubs after 2017.
“We are trying to win this division,” Epstein said. “That is what we are focused on The offseason stuff, we will deal with when the time comes. Nothing has been determined. That story is not written yet. Jake is always focused because he is a competitor. He wants to win games. That has nothing to do with this being his free-agent year. He was focused in 2015 and last year.”
Arrieta’s free agency will be intriguing, as Boras and Epstein each are brilliant at what they do. Another dynamic is that the free-agent market isn’t expected to be flush with starting pitchers. Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish is the headliner, and Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto could possibly hit the market if he opts out. There aren’t many top-of-the-rotation arms after that, which could help Arrieta’s bargaining power.
Arrieta has talked all year about his contract when the topic has been broached. To his credit, he has had zero concentration issues in weighing that with
“The primary focus is and will always be winning games,” Arrieta said. “Other issues do come up. I have no problem addressing those (contract issues). I just get back to the basics and preparing to help my team win a game.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.