Jake Arrieta returns for the Chicago Cubs as they look to finally swat away the Brewers and secure the NL Central title – but will the starting pitcher still be at Wrigley Field next season?
While focus remains completely on this season’s pennant chase, there’s no doubt that the Cubs’ front office will have spent many sleepless nights thinking about the Arrieta problem.
Arrieta is back on the mound on Thursday evening, two weeks after suffering a hamstring strain, as the defending World Series champions start a four-game set in Milwaukee and he’s just the kind of guy you want in these big game situations.
.Cubs P Jake Arrieta has left the game in the third inning with a right leg injury. Justin Grimm replaces him. pic.twitter.com/IP7g3zmztV
— Audible Sports (@AudibleSports) September 4, 2017
You would think keeping Arrieta in Chicago would be a no brainer, having pitched two no hitters since August 2015. But he is now the wrong side of 30 and is reportedly seeking a monster deal – hardly a surprise considering he is a client of Scott Boras.
A Cy Young winner in 2015, Arrieta has been better than both Max Scherzer and David Price over the past three years according to the super agent. Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals as a 30-year-old while Price penned a $217 million contract with the Red Sox at the same age.
Over the past three seasons, Arrieta has been among the best pitchers in baseball but his start to the current campaign put a lot of doubts into a lot of minds.
In the first half, he recorded a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts – not the sort of stats that will get you a deal for over $200 million. Since the All-Star break however, he has returned almost to his 2015 level of dominance, posting a sub 2.00 ERA.
Yes, his velocity is down but that hasn’t affected the peripherals too much. His walk rate is lower than last season, his strikeouts are slightly up and the WHIP has only slightly increased despite a rise in home runs allowed.
Jake Arrieta (@Cubs) has a 1.59 ERA since the All-Star break, best in MLB
Cubs at Pirates, 4 ET on ESPN pic.twitter.com/wxN98dqClV
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 4, 2017
A big dilemma for the Chicago Cubs – a big market club with the young core of position players to realistically build a dynasty – is who they would will replace him with.
We saw how president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and co went out and got Jose Quintana from crosstown rivals the White Sox in July for a pricely sum. But with veteran John Lackey almost certainly leaving at the end of the season and as Jon Lester continues to look shaky, there will be boots to fill.
Only Yu Darvish could rival Arrieta in terms of skills and experience on the free agent market but he would most likely demand the same, if not more.
The one thing the Cubs do not have is a long list of minor league pitchers ready to make the step up.
Jen Ho-Tseng made his MLB debut earlier this month against the Mets but he is only 22 years old and pitched just 55 innings in AAA after promotion from AA this season. Then there’s Mike Montgomery, who has done well in relief roles but has been up and down as a starter.
Two batters have reached base on @MikeMontgum22 through 5 IP.
One was hit by a pitch and the other reached on an error. pic.twitter.com/mZ4XV9J3BV
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 20, 2017
Even if you assume Montgomery joins the rotation full time next season, you still only have Lester, Quintana and Kyle Hendricks under contract to join him. Ho-Tseng will surely start next season in the minors so there’s a space in that five-man rotation that needs filling. The farm system has been ransacked over the past couple of years so a big trade seems out of the question.
That brings us back to Arrieta. Yes, he’s going to be expensive. Yes, giving a five (or more) year deal to a 31-year-old whose velocity has dipped is a gamble. And yes, the Cubs’ young position players will start receiving substantial rises in arbitration over the next few seasons.
But the biggest question the Chicago Cubs front office has to ask themselves this winter is: Can we really afford not to re-sign Jake Arrieta?