In the middle of November, Cubs fans can dream about Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation next year.
“I would assume that a phone call might be made, at least,” Arrieta said. “We’d love to have him.”
Arrieta punctuated a dream season by becoming the National League Cy Young winner, making the Cubs 3-for-3 during awards week after Kris Bryant (Rookie of the Year) and Joe Maddon (Manager of the Year) took their turns in the spotlight.
But Arrieta might have been the MVP for a 97-win team, going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and putting together the best second half for a pitcher in major-league history.
That convinced the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which released its voting results on Wednesday night, honoring Arrieta over a pair of aces for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Arrieta finished with 17 of 30 first-place votes to win by a 22-point margin over Greinke, a pitcher the Cubs have been linked to in free agency after another spectacularly efficient season (19-3, 1.66 ERA) that suggests he will age well over the course of a megadeal.
“Greinke is a guy that any team would be lucky to have,” Arrieta said. “He’s going to be a commodity that a lot of teams are looking to add to their rotation. Just watching from the other side for a number of years, seeing what he’s been able to do, year-in and year-out, is very admirable. Any team that doesn’t at least make a phone call would be foolish."
The Cubs met with the agents for Greinke (Casey Close) and Arrieta (Scott Boras) during last week’s general managers meetings in South Florida.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein has said the Cubs will test the waters with Boras this winter to find out what it would take to put together a long-term deal for Arrieta, who remains under club control for two more seasons and is projected to make $10.6 million next year (according to MLB Trade Rumors calculations done before the Cy Young victory).
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“It’s a definite possibility,” Arrieta said. “As time goes on, it’s inevitable (we’ll talk about the future). I don’t think that there’s a tremendous amount of angst on my part to get something done immediately. But that doesn’t mean that something can’t happen.
“Really, my focus right now is that obviously I know I’m still with the Chicago Cubs. I couldn’t be more excited and happy for the opportunities that we’re going to have as a team in the future.
“We’ll address it. We’ll talk things over. And if it doesn’t (happen), then I’m still a Chicago Cub, regardless. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see where things go in the near future.”
This underlines what an unbelievable year it had been for pitching in the NL: Clayton Kershaw – a three-time Cy Young winner who went 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA and 301 strikeouts – finished a distant third in the voting.
Arrieta made his mark with a no-hitter on national television at Dodger Stadium, and then showing up for the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie for a Maddon theme trip, all part of an unreal run after the All-Star break (12-1, 0.75 ERA) that finally established him as one of the most dominant pitchers in the game after a rocky start to his career with the Baltimore Orioles.
“I was locked in,” Arrieta said. “My timing and my tempo in my delivery was as close to perfect as I feel like I could have possibly been.
“When you combine that timing and the consistent release point, regardless of the pitch – fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, changeup – (you’re) able to be powerful and be explosive and release from the exact same spot.
“It really, really made it easy on me. There were times throughout the stretch where I expected to go out there and throw a shutout or throw seven, eight scoreless. It got to that point where that was just something – not only myself – but the team expected it. That’s how locked in I really was.”
Arrieta spent time on the Triple-A level during the 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons, needing a change of scenery for whatever reason – the difficulty of pitching in the American League East, some friction between Dan Duquette’s front office and Buck Showalter’s dugout, an awkward clubhouse fit.
That flip deal in the middle of the 2013 season – essentially cashing in 15 Scott Feldman starts and reserve catcher Steve Clevenger for Arrieta and hard-throwing reliever Pedro Strop – will go down as a franchise-altering trade for Epstein’s front office.
“Once I was able to not worry about the moves happening above me,” Arrieta said, “or when I was going to get another opportunity, I understood that the most important thing for me to put emphasis on was just continuing to try and get better.”
The Cubs encouraged Arrieta to throw with his natural crossfire motion, gave him an opportunity to hit the reset button and watched him develop a fanatical workout routine.
Arrieta clicked with pitching coach Chris Bosio, obsessed over his nutrition and absorbed all the scouting reports, allowing him to throw almost 250 innings this year, including the playoffs.
Arrieta is now only the fifth pitcher in franchise history to win this award, joining an elite list that includes Greg Maddux (1992), Rick Sutcliffe (1984), Bruce Sutter (1979) and Fergie Jenkins (1971).
Now that Arrieta has that kind of juice, you figure Greinke will have to listen if the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner calls.