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.

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.