World Series

Scott Boras unveils sales pitch for Jake Arrieta: Welcome to 'Playoffville'

Scott Boras unveils sales pitch for Jake Arrieta: Welcome to 'Playoffville'

ORLANDO, Fla. – Right from the beginning of these high-stakes negotiations, Scott Boras so obviously wants to play one free agent against another, implicitly contrasting Jake Arrieta’s big-game experience as a Cub with Yu Darvish’s awful World Series performance for the Los Angeles Dodgers.   

“I don’t want address a specific franchise,” Boras said. “But in the law, we call it ‘res ipsa loquitur.’ It speaks for itself. I said earlier in the season that while we can’t talk about nuts with the exception of squirrels and trees, I just say this: Jake Arrieta, he’s a big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.”    

Rocking a bright blue sport coat, a white dress shirt and jeans, the super-agent stood outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando on Wednesday afternoon and delivered a State of Boras Corp. address for roughly 45 minutes, dropping all sorts of metaphors about the gated community he calls “Playoffville.”

Boras spun it like this at the general manager/ownership meetings in Florida: To move to a better neighborhood – and get improved services, a new sense of security and a higher overall net worth – you have to pay more property taxes.  

That sales pitch will go nowhere with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who have overseen a renaissance at Wrigley Field, take the long-range view and understand the luxury-tax implications in the collective bargaining agreement and how that limits ways to acquire more talent.

“First of all, you have to give Theo and Tom a great deal of credit,” said Boras, who routinely criticized Cubs ownership during the rebuilding years. “They may have increased their franchise value by a billion dollars in three or four years. They have a new TV contract coming up. And they have this amazing group of everyday players that are young, gifted. They have all these choices.

“This isn’t the Windy City. This is the economic hurricane in Chicago of what the Cubs have done. It is something where with the value of the franchise, the amount of money rolling in, the revenues annually, in the future, the Cubs can do whatever they choose to do in this free-agent market and the next one. To not have championship pitchers on your team – there aren’t many of them.”

Well, the Cubs still have Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, who combined already own four World Series rings, but this stump speech wasn’t really for a Chicago audience, anyway. Boras needs to appeal to the type of team the Cubs used to be, desperate to finally win a World Series and convinced this will be the year. Boras can also market Arrieta as a Lester-like presence worth the nine-figure investment for the rotation, around the clubhouse and in October.

“There is no one with the championship-caliber numbers of Jake Arrieta in this market,” Boras said. “We know that. We have seen what great talents do in the postseason. Some do really, really well and they take that environment and win with it. And others in that environment with great ability do not do anywhere near that.    

“The goal is to win now with this team. I don’t think there’s any general manager, manager, anyone that doesn’t want a guy that’s going to win World Series games for you and elimination games.”

It’s different when Arrieta has already done it for you – from winning the 2015 National League wild-card game to beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series – and will be 32 next season.  

[MORE: How the Jose Quintana deal changed everything for the Cubs

But Boras – who could slow down the entire winter when his clients also include J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – will find a team that believes it’s one pitcher away from winning the 2018 World Series.     

“I go back to Cleveland,” Boras said. “If Jake Arrieta doesn’t win Game 6, they don’t win. And there’s a lot of pitchers who do not win Game 6s or 7s and their teams lose and they don’t become world champions.

“Other organizations are seeking that. When you have a guy like that out there, I don’t know why you would not want him – and want him long-term – because he brings a dimension to you that few teams have.”  

The Dodgers just lost a seven-game World Series where Darvish – a heralded trade-deadline addition and the other top-of-the-rotation talent now on the open market – got 10 outs combined in two starts against the Houston Astros.

The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988 and Boras obviously rolled with a question about moving from “Playoffville” to “Championship Town.”

“There are lessons about who pitchers are in the postseason,” Boras said. “There is that defined group of stellar pitchers, Cy Young types who have won the award, been in the voting for two or three years. They are really, really good at performing at high levels during the season, and that’s a great value to a franchise.

“And then there’s the ultimate cherry on top of those pitchers that have the ability to perform in the postseason where they distinguish themselves from all others. That’s winning elimination games.

“You look at (Justin) Verlander. You look at (Madison) Bumgarner. You look at Arrieta. They have separated themselves from the pack. They’ve won the big games. They’ve won the World Series games.

“And I think when owners are looking for not only great performance to elevate them into the postseason – excuse me, ‘Playoffville’ – the theme of it is that those big games, those pivotal games where you’ve got leads, and you know how to keep ‘em, your team is winning those games.

“That, to me, is where value is for an owner. They’re all hunting for the trophy. They’re all hunting for those moments.”

This angle just might work, but it's just so much harder to see it with the Cubs when Arrieta already helped them build their dream house and put down roots in "Playoffville."

Explaining Wade Davis's full impact on Cubs and hidden value as a free agent

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USA TODAY

Explaining Wade Davis's full impact on Cubs and hidden value as a free agent

The Cubs understand Wade Davis cannot only be measured in saves (76 across the last three seasons) or career postseason ERA (1.40) or All-Star appearances (three years running). There is real value to the way Davis interacts with teammates, the peace of mind that comes with the ninth inning and the outsized influence those elite closers have in the playoffs.

That makes Davis such an interesting case study for a front office that generally avoids long-term commitments to closers, viewing the job as too narrow and too volatile and believing that the next great reliever can develop organically.

Maybe the Cubs will ultimately decide that they need to pour their resources into filling roughly 400 rotation innings while planning for next winter’s blue-chip class of free agents and the escalating costs for their young hitters.

Davis is 32 years old and coming off a season where he put up a career-high walk rate, got hit noticeably harder in the second half and threw 92 pitches in his last two playoff appearances.

Davis also has a 32-for-33 in save chances on his 2017 stat sheet, a World Series ring from the 2015 Kansas City Royals, a more sophisticated ninth-inning style than, say, Aroldis Chapman’s 100-mph fastball and a reputation for being a baseball gym rat and a pitcher whisperer.

“He is always trying to learn, always trying to figure things out,” said Brian Duensing, another free-agent reliever who would be a good fit as the Cubs rebuild their bullpen. “The guy’s so well-prepared. He’s got great stuff, obviously. But he’s also a guy that knows what he has. He knows the type of pitcher he is, and he’s constantly in the film room looking at video.

“He has an approach every time he faces a team. He knows what he wants to do to certain guys. He’ll even talk about it to us in the bullpen.

“He won’t talk about every hitter, but there will be two or three guys. He’s just like: ‘This guy is a prime candidate for’ – whatever, a front-hip cutter – and sure enough he faces the guy and he called the whole at-bat four innings beforehand.”

Duensing remembered being with the Royals on a minor-league deal for spring training in 2016 and how Davis subtly pointed him in a new direction.

“Literally, we were sitting next to each other and he was talking about some mechanical things (Zack) Greinke would do,” Duensing said. “(Wade) said (Greinke) would try this and this and that. I’m like: ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ So I went out and tried doing it from the left side. I’m like: ‘Oh, well, that feels way more comfortable than I had been feeling for two years now.’”

Duensing wound up earning a role with the Baltimore Orioles bullpen in 2016, parlaying that into a one-year, $2 million deal with the defending World Series champs, posting a 2.74 ERA in 68 appearances for the Cubs and becoming part of Joe Maddon’s playoff circle of trust.

“(Wade) turned my career around a little bit,” Duensing said. “I had been struggling for a while, but he helped me kind of find my release point again, and it felt comfortable to be on the mound, just by having a nonchalant conversation with him.”

Are those quiet leadership skills worth the four-year, $62 million contract the San Francisco Giants gave Mark Melancon last offseason? Probably not, but presence and intangibles do matter as the Cubs try to reboot Carl Edwards Jr., fix Justin Wilson and overhaul their bullpen while continuing to be a 90-win team that’s expected to compete for a World Series title.

“He’s just cool, calm, collected – ‘Triple Cs,’ I call him,” Edwards said. “Watching him, it’s like reading one book – ‘Three Little Pigs’ – over and over again. Sooner or later, you’re going to know exactly how to do it, and you’re going to know exactly what the story is. Just watching Wade, it actually gave me some motivation and it gave me a lot more confidence.”

The Cubs have traded for two of the game’s best closers within the last 16 months, using Chapman and Davis as short-term solutions and setting up one of their most critical decisions this winter: Can they afford to not think big again?

“Wade has been such a big factor for us,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “not only in terms of how he pitches in the ninth inning, but there’s also a calmness and a consistency to him that I think is contagious to the guys in the bullpen.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have him this year. There’s no doubt there’s a disproportionate value in a bullpen in October. We’ve seen that for the last few years, and that’s not going to go away.”

For the second straight year, Munenori Kawasaki is a world champion

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For the second straight year, Munenori Kawasaki is a world champion

Munenori Kawasaki has another ring to display in his trophy case.

Kawasaki — a fan favorite in his one year in Chicago in 2016 — won the Japan Series over the weekend as part of the Softbank Hawks.

The 36-year-old infielder opted to play in his home country of Japan after the Cubs released him at the end of the 2017 spring training. He played 42 games at second base for the Hawks in 2017, hitting .241 with a .623 OPS. He did not play in the championship game, which Softbank won 4-3 over the Yokohoma Bay Stars.

Former Cubs pitcher Spencer Patton was also on the title-winning Hawks.

Kawasaki only had one year in a Cubs uniform and was not active during the 2016 World Series run, but he left a lasting impression with his stirring rendition of "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" in spring training and starred in a hilarious Japanese commercial.