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.