Cubs

Cubs reportedly willing to bring Jake Arrieta back — but only if contract size is right

Cubs reportedly willing to bring Jake Arrieta back — but only if contract size is right

The Cubs have holes to fill in the starting rotation. And they've reportedly been trying to plug them with some top-of-the-line free-agent talent, namely Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb.

But as offseason activity remains virtually non-existent for all teams and the talk of what the Cubs' starting staff will look like come Opening Day continues, one option remains relatively undiscussed: Why not bring back Jake Arrieta?

The 2015 National League Cy Young winner's free-agent departure is the reason the Cubs have adding a front-of-the-rotation guy so high on their offseason to-do list. But Arrieta seemingly checks many of the boxes when it comes to someone the Cubs want to team with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana — not to mention the recently added Tyler Chatwood — to form a formidable starting rotation that can stage a run for a second World Series championship in three seasons.

According to a Tuesday report from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs would be willing to bring Arrieta back to the North Side. But of course there's a catch, the same catch that seems to be holding things up everywhere this offseason: money. Well, more specifically it's money and years, as Nightengale outlines that the Cubs would be fine with inking Arrieta to a four-year contract worth $110 million. But Arrieta and his representation are supposedly looking for something lengthier, more in the vein of a five- or six-year deal, which according to Nightengale the Cubs are not so cool with.

Don't rush to call Arrieta unreasonable. According to other reports, Darvish and Cobb are seeking something similar. And for both Arrieta and Darvish, both 31 years old, this is the expected move to try and get an expensive, lengthy contract while still in their prime. But their ages, too, describe the risk for the Cubs or any team that would acquiesce and agree to a pact as long as five or six years. But is age-related decline a few years down the road worth what either pitcher can provide now when it comes to winning a World Series? That's the debate, and that's why the Cubs and all other teams have yet to lock down any of these guys.

Obviously bringing Arrieta back would have its positives. The guy has been one of the NL's top pitchers for the past three seasons, combining in 2015, 2016 and 2017 to post a 2.71 ERA and strike out 589 hitters in just shy of 600 innings. He's been a big part of the Cubs reaching three consecutive NL Championship Series and winning that curse-smashing championship in 2016.

It's true the numbers jumped up a little last season, with his ERA at 3.53, his highest since 2013. And while he still started 30 games, his innings took a dramatic dip, down almost 30 from where he was in 2016, a season in which he made just one more start.

But while Arrieta's desired contract might've seen an unreachable sum a week ago, remember too that things have changed since, with Wade Davis agreeing to a record contract with the Colorado Rockies. The Cubs, likely no longer in pursuit of a high-priced closer, could shift those resources to their pursuit of a high-priced pitcher. And maybe they'd be more willing to spend money and time on Arrieta (or Darvish or Cobb or someone else) now that a contract doesn't need to be offered up to Davis.

Then there's the big picture, though, in which resources potentially need to be reserved for next winter's Bryce Harper sweepstakes and for the day when the team's young position players are ready to hit free agency. In other words, it's a tricky puzzle and one not solved easily.

But maybe the best way to fill the Arrieta-sized hole in the starting rotation is with Arrieta himself. It seems the Cubs are willing if the price is right.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Connor McKnight (670 The Score) and Phil Thompson (Chicago Tribune) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs offense comes alive with Albert Almora, Jr. leading off. Is it time to make him the everyday centerfielder? 

Plus Mitch Trubisky says this week’s minicamp is the most he’s been coached in his career. So how long will it take him to master Matt Nagy’s new offense?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

As Cubs search for rhythm, hold the declarations on this season for a while

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USA TODAY

As Cubs search for rhythm, hold the declarations on this season for a while

Jed Hoyer is right: You can't make any claims about these Cubs one way or the other.

It's too early and the weather/schedule has been far too wacky for any strong statements about who, exactly, the 2018 Cubs are. 

"I don't think you can really evaluate much so far," Hoyer said. "There's no rhythm to the season yet. The game's been played in terrible condition for the most part.

"Positively or negatively, I don't think you can draw big conclusions based on what's happened. ... There's a lot of games to be played. We'll forget this time quickly and remember what it's like to be in [Wrigley] when it's not freezing. It's been a little choppy and hard to evaluate, for sure."

You can shout "SMALL SAMPLE SIZE" from the Wrigleyville rooftops all you'd like, but that's not even why it's impossible to draw conclusions about the identity of this team.

The 8-8 Cubs have already had five postponements due to weather to start the 2018 season, including four on the recent homestand (and a makeup game on Thursday, which was originally scheduled as a travel day). The last time this franchise had five games in April called on account of weather was back in 1967 and there are still another 10 days left in the month for the weather to possibly mess with. 

This will surely go down as one of the oddest starts to a season in Cubs history, with a 17-inning game played on the second day of the year, followed by a 10-inning game the next day. The Cubs were supposed to start the campaign with six straight games, but the last contest in Cincinnati was postponed, so they got an impromptu two-day break, which was good at the time for Anthony Rizzo to rest his ailing back and the bullpen to catch their breath.

After a four-game series in Milwaukee's domed stadium in which the Cubs finally looked to be showing some rhythm, the weather reared its ugly head again.

The 11-day homestand featured four postponed games, maybe the worst weather game in Wrigley Field history (Saturday) and yet another impromptu two-day break. This week alone, the Cubs played two games in a five-day span.

All of that has led to an inconsistent product.

One day, the Cubs look like an offensive juggernaut, going 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position, chasing an opposing starter before the fifth inning and scoring in bunches, as they showed Thursday in the 8-5 win over the Cardinals.

But in half the games this year, they can't seem to buy a hit against pitchers most Cubs fans haven't even heard of.

One day, the starting rotation flashes its elite potential, only to get battered around the next night.

"We haven't pitched very well," said Jon Lester, who allowed only an unearned run across six innings Thursday. "I'm not gonna speak for hitters; I don't like to cross that line by any means. But I feel like we've had some really good offensive games and our pitching staff as a whole hasn't stepped up.

"I think things will get better if we can get some games in. You got pitchers that are going on 6, 7, 8 days rest all the time. It's hard to get in that rhythm, especially when it's cold out. It's hard to find the ball; it's hard to find that release point."

Lester isn't one for making excuses and the Cubs aren't doing that. Every team in baseball has to go through these head-scratching weather issues, but it's impossible to point to the team's starting pitching inconsistency without including the schedule caveat. 

Baseball players — and starting pitchers, in specific — are creatures of habit and yet everybody is trying to navigate this new terrain.

Kyle Hendricks is still throwing a bunch on the side during all these rain/snow-outs, but most relievers are saving their bullets. Position players are still working out and getting their time in the cages, but that doesn't help everything.

The team that set records for their defensive prowess in 2016 has been inconsistent in the field this year, though their manager has an idea why.

"When you don't play consistently, the feel, the nuance, that escapes you," Joe Maddon said. 

The same issues that plagued the Cubs during their World Series "hangover" last year still seem to be around — not coming up with the timely hit, poor situational hitting overall, too many walks from the pitching staff.

But there are also reasons for optimism.

Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell are showing development offensively and the lineup has missed its anchor (Anthony Rizzo) for almost half the season (seven games). Carl Edwards Jr. is limiting his walks and the Cubs bullpen has been the team's saving grace for the first three weeks.

The starting rotation is still iffy, but with resumes like Lester's, Kyle Hendricks', Jose Quintana's and Yu Darvish's, that figures to even out over a larger sample size.

The Cubs haven't fallen too far back in the standings (3 games behind the NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates) and more importantly than anything, they've been able to stay healthy, apart from minor back issues for Rizzo and Ben Zobrist.

The weather still doesn't look great in Colorado, Cleveland or back in Chicago next week, but eventually things will warm up and the sun will come out on a regular basis.

And eventually enough games will be played — and not postponed — where statements about who the 2018 Cubs are can be identified conclusively.

It's just not that time...yet.