“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.”