Cubs: Where things stand with Jake Arrieta after Stephen Strasburg’s megadeal

Cubs: Where things stand with Jake Arrieta after Stephen Strasburg’s megadeal

“No,” Jake Arrieta said, he doesn’t believe in the concept of taking a hometown discount, sending a point-blank message through the reporters crowded around his locker wanting a reaction to Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $175 million extension with the Washington Nationals.

The Cubs can’t just sell Arrieta on Wrigley Field’s atmosphere, his friendships in the clubhouse and the chance to make history. Losing as a winning recruiting pitch can only go so far, and this two-year window might be the best shot to win a World Series here. Theo Epstein’s front office and the Ricketts family will have to show Arrieta the money – if the Cubs even want to make that kind of commitment to a pitcher who’s already 30 and can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season.

“I’ve made it clear that I like Chicago,” Arrieta said before Wednesday’s doubleheader against the San Diego Padres. “I think everybody knows that. If I had it my way, I’d stay here. But that’s just one side of the story.”

More than anything, the timing of the Strasburg announcement surprised Arrieta, who is also represented by super-agent Scott Boras. The news leaked out Monday night, when Strasburg got a no-decision in a win over the Detroit Tigers, leading into Tuesday’s news conference at Nationals Park, less than six months before he could hit the open market.

“The misconception is that Scott wants everybody to go to free agency,” Arrieta said. “For a lot of guys, it’s smart to do that. As we’ve seen in the past, a lot of Scott’s clients that have gone to free agency have been very well compensated and it worked out for them.”

Like Max Scherzer, who turned down an extension offer to stay in Detroit (reportedly six years and $144 million) and bet on himself, getting $210 million guaranteed from the Nationals.

Boras has framed Scherzer as a comparable pitcher for Arrieta, saying: “Every Cy Young Award winner I know got a seven-year contract.” The Cubs are believed to be more comfortable dealing in the four-year range.

“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.”

Arrieta played with Strasburg on the 2008 Olympic team. They competed against each other in college, Arrieta pitching for Texas Christian University while Strasburg developed into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft at San Diego State University.

“The money doesn’t surprise me – it’s what the guy is worth,” Arrieta said. “It’s obviously a really big contract for a guy who has had Tommy John (surgery). But that’s the price for starting pitching.

“I feel like every year it goes up slightly. This year’s free-agent class of pitchers is pretty thin, and even thinner now that Strasburg’s signed early.

“That’s why starting pitching is so valuable. There’s not many guys that can pitch at the top of the rotation just floating around.”

Arrieta – a thoughtful guy who speaks in full paragraphs on just about any topic you could think to ask about – clearly sees the economic landscape and his place within it.

If Arrieta (6-0, 1.13 ERA) keeps pitching like this, starts the All-Star Game, maybe throws another no-hitter and shines again in October, then he will get a huge payday through the arbitration system after earning $10.7 million this year.

“If you look at it financially,” Arrieta said, “it’s going to be close to what a free agent would get anyways. If you look at it, it’s pretty straightforward.”

Arrieta wouldn’t rule out the idea of negotiating during the season, but it doesn’t sound like that’s a priority right now, and it probably makes the most sense for both sides to let this ride.

“Well, in a perfect world, I would prefer it be done quickly,” Arrieta said. “If it’s going to happen, get it over with and let’s go play. Sometimes, it can be an uncomfortable situation having to talk about things like this around your teammates when we’re just trying to beat the Padres today. That’s why I don’t put a whole lot of thought into it.

“If they want to talk, they know where I’m at and we can get something going.” 

When baseball executives become rock stars, the Chicago media pushes a management-friendly viewpoint and generations of Cubs fans feel loyal toward the franchise, the story becomes what the player is willing to sacrifice, just how much he really wants to stay here. 

But the other side of that narrative would be: Are the Cubs willing to make that type of commitment to Arrieta? Would the Cubs show the same faith in Arrieta and reward him the way the Nationals trusted Strasburg?   

“You know more than I (do),” Arrieta said. “I don’t know.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.