Tommy La Stella

One Cub on Jake Arrieta's ongoing joblessness: 'I don't think anybody knows what to make of it'

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USA TODAY

One Cub on Jake Arrieta's ongoing joblessness: 'I don't think anybody knows what to make of it'

MESA, Ariz. — Jake Arrieta still doesn't have a job.

While that's extremely unusual with spring training already underway, it's the reality of this ridiculously inactive offseason. The guy who the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 and who helped the Cubs to three consecutive NL Championship Series and that curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 is still waiting to suit up. Meanwhile, his former team moved on in dramatic fashion earlier this week, signing Yu Darvish to a six-year contract.

But Arrieta's name isn't forbidden in the Cubs' clubhouse or anything, and one of his friends and former teammates was asked about what the heck is going on.

“It’s strange. I don’t think anybody knows what to make of it, it’s kind of just the way the market has gone this offseason and that’s what it is," infielder Tommy La Stella said Friday. "He’ll land somewhere, obviously, and it’ll be the right fit because that’s just kind of the way these things go.

"He’s a great competitor and a great player, so it’s going to be tough to imagine him falling into a situation that doesn’t line up.”

Arrieta should have been a huge splash this winter for a team needing an upgrade in the starting rotation, and he still will be whenever he signs. But when that signing comes is anyone's guess right now. The game of chicken between baseball's teams and free agents has been broken at times throughout this offseason — most notably by the Cubs with Darvish, the Milwaukee Brewers with outfielder Lorenzo Cain and the Philadelphia Phillies with slugger Carlos Santana — but Arrieta and a host of other big names remain unsigned.

Of course Arrieta will always be linked to Darvish, the guy the Cubs went with instead of bringing back one of their aces from three straight playoff runs. Until the games start counting, there will be a debate over whether the Cubs' front office made the right decision.

“I don’t think there’s any miscalculation on their end, to be honest," La Stella said. "They’re very calculated with everything that they do. They weigh the pros and cons of everything. Any time you’re going to miss out on anything, obviously you stand to gain somewhere else. So I think that’s what the situation was.”

It's possible Arrieta could land elsewhere in the NL Central, as the Brewers have been linked to him throughout the offseason as they search for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher to better compete with the Cubs for the division crown.

Seeing his former team often throughout the next few seasons would probably fire him up. But wherever Arrieta lands, this is a famously focused guy who worked like crazy to not just get in incredible shape but to go from a trade piece in the Scott Feldman deal to the most dominant pitcher in the game for a spell.

“He’s never lacking in motivation. He always goes out there and pitches with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder," La Stella said. "I think that’s what makes him so good. I’m sure he’ll take a little bit from it.”

Cubs avoid arbitration with five players, including a record payday for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Cubs avoid arbitration with five players, including a record payday for Kris Bryant

The Cubs have avoided going to arbitration with a group of key players Friday.

In the hours before the Cubs Convention, the organization reached agreement with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Justin Wilson and Tommy La Stella.

Bryant received a record figure for the first year of arbitration, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer:

Here are the reported figures for all five players:

Bryant - $10.85 million
Wilson - $4.25 million
Hendricks - $4.175 million
Russell - $3.2 million
La Stella - $950K

MLB Trade Rumors predicted the salary figures for the five players at $8.9 million (Bryant), $4.9 million (Hendricks), $4.3 million (Wilson), $2.3 million (Russell) and $1 million (La Stella).

Bryant receives a huge, well-deserved pay raise for the former MVP and NL Rookie of the Year that has turned into one of the faces of baseball. Russell is aiming to put a rough 2017 season behind him and take another step forward in his development in 2018.

Wilson is in his third year of arbitration and figures to be a huge part of the 2018 Cubs bullpen. The 30-year-old southpaw had a 5.09 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in 23 games in Chicago after coming over at the trade deadline last season. But he was stellar in the first four months of 2017 with the Detroit Tigers, saving 13 games with a 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 12.3 K/9.

Hendricks just turned 28 this week and emerged as the organization's choice to pitch Game 1 of the postseason last year against the Dodgers in the NLDS. He's in the first year of arbitration and has a career 2.94 ERA, 1.098 WHIP and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2016.

La Stella isn't a starter on the Cubs but he's been a valuable bench bat the last three years, slashing .276/.363/.429 in 395 plate appearances while seeing the majority of his time at second and third base.

As of Friday afternoon, the Cubs still have to reach an agreement with only one other player: Justin Grimm. Arbitration hearings are set up for next month, though the two sides could reach an agreement before then.

Theo Epstein's front office has never gone to arbitration with any player.

MLBTR predicts Grimm will get $2.4 million.

Respect this: How Anthony Rizzo owns October

Respect this: How Anthony Rizzo owns October

No one around this team flips the switch quite like Anthony Rizzo, who usually rolls into the Wrigley Field clubhouse looking like he just woke up from a nap, and spends an extraordinary amount of time with cancer patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital, and absolutely wants to own October and be the new Mr. Cub.

It depends on the mood. Rizzo can be purposely boring with the media or extremely entertaining, writing everything off as “just baseball” or predicting the Cubs would win the division after an 89-loss season in 2014 and the franchise’s fifth-straight fifth-place finish.    

Remember Rizzo in the middle of an epic World Series Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians, clinging to a mic-d up David Ross in Progressive Field’s visiting dugout: “I can’t control myself right now. I’m trying my best. I’m emotional. I’m an emotional wreck.” Rizzo leaned into Grandpa Rossy and cracked up teammate Tommy La Stella with an “Anchorman” quote: “I am in a glass case of emotion right now.”

Rizzo screaming “Respect me! Respect me!” and pounding his chest will be one of the takeaway moments from this National League Division Series, making Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker pay for the key Game 3 decision to let lefty reliever Oliver Perez pitch to him.

“He has been underrated,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s forecast pushed Game 4 back to Wednesday at 3:08 p.m. “For me, he always should be in the MVP consideration. That’s just Anthony being Anthony in the moment. I would almost bet – had he had a chance to reevaluate what he said right there – he may have. But that’s just Rizz. He’s very self-confident.

“And there’s not a thing wrong with that. In this game, there’s so much failure involved, you have to have that self-confidence to overcome the negative moments. That was truly Rizz being Rizz.”

Rizzo lifted the first pitch from Perez into the no man’s land between shortstop Trea Turner and converging outfielders Jayson Werth and Michael A. Taylor, the ball dropping for a two-out, go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of Monday’s 2-1 win. That left the Nationals one loss away from winter and the Cubs one win away from their third straight trip to the NL Championship Series.

[MORE: Game 4 postponed to Wednesday: Could postseason rain go against the Cubs this time around?]

That type of Sustained Success sounded unthinkable in the middle of the 2012 season, when Rizzo took over for first baseman Bryan LaHair on a team that would lose 101 games. Rizzo began to prove why Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group had such a man crush on him, putting his own imprint on the franchise with his relaxed attitude and hair-trigger intensity.  

“You’ve just got to stay in the moment,” Rizzo said. “These games, it doesn't matter what you did the last at-bat, if you got a hit, if you got a home run. It's all about that pitch, and that next pitch, and you've got to be ready.

“What you did previously means nothing anymore. You've got to be ready every single pitch. And to stay in games like this, we know. We know we're good.”

A bloop single still goes down in the record books. Rizzo now has a nine-game hitting streak in postseason play, going 13-for-33 (.394) with two home runs and 10 RBI during that stretch. That streak is tied with Riggs Stephenson (1929-32) for third-longest as a Cub, trailing Frank “Wildfire” Schulte (13 games between 1906-10) and Ryne Sandberg (10 games from 1984-89). Rizzo’s six career homers and 17 RBI in the playoffs are both franchise records.  

It’s not that Rizzo’s underrated as much as other young players became the next thing in Wrigleyville, Kris Bryant beat him in last year’s NL MVP race, the Cubs are overflowing with other characters/distractions/storylines and you almost take the Gold Glove defense and the 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons (three in a row) for granted now.

But Rizzo is 28 years old and under club control through 2021 and said it after Jon Lester signed that $155 million megadeal: The Cubs should be contenders for the rest of his career.

“We know someone is going to come through, and it's just a matter of time before someone does,” Rizzo said. “It's just who we are. We all believe in each other."