It seems the Cubs want to keep Jake Arrieta on the North Side — but maybe not for as long as the free-agent pitcher is hoping.
According to a report from FanRag's Jon Heyman, the Cubs met with Arrieta at the general manager meetings earlier this offseason. But, per Heyman, the two parties have differing ideas on how long a potential contract should be: Arrieta is said to want a lengthy six- or seven-year deal, while the Cubs would prefer to lock Arrieta up for a shorter period of time. Heyman added that the two sides probably haven't talked since.
None of that information comes as much of surprise, of course. Arrieta has been one of the National League's top pitcher over the past three seasons and is arguably the top arm on this winter's free-agent market. Guys fitting that description usually look to sign a long-term deal.
But one can certainly understand why the Cubs might be hesitating to give Arrieta that kind of contract. Arrieta, after all, will be 32 on Opening Day of the 2018 season and would be 38 in the final year of a hypothetical seven-year contract. Pitchers who retain elite status into their late 30s are few and far between.
And, as good as Arrieta's been over the past three seasons — helping the Cubs win the 2016 World Series and reach three consecutive NL Championship Series — his numbers took a bit of a downturn last season. He posted a 3.53 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 30 starts in 2017 after turning in a 3.10 ERA and 190 strikeouts in 31 starts in 2016 and a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 33 starts during the 2015 season, when he won the NL Cy Young Award.
Still, all of those numbers are very good. The Cubs know what Arrieta can do and how important he's been to three straight playoff teams, and they have obvious needs in their starting rotation, with only Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana locked into Joe Maddon's starting five for 2018.
These are things that Theo Epstein's front office will be weighing throughout the offseason, whether revolving around talks with Arrieta, any other free-agent pitcher or in trade talks with other clubs.
For now, it appears the Cubs would like to have Arrieta back. But will the two sides resolve their differences and get a deal done? Or is there another team out there more willing to give Arrieta the kind of deal he wants? That obviously remains to be seen.