Jake Arrieta ended his victory lap by receiving the National League Cy Young Award from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s New York chapter, amid a blizzard that dropped 26.8 inches of snow on Central Park.
Record-setting and historic are words used to describe both Arrieta’s season and Winter Storm Jonas and maybe even his arbitration payday.
But the Cubs shouldn’t have to worry about Arrieta getting too comfortable or digging himself too much after a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, an unbelievable second half (12-1, 0.75 ERA) and that complete-game wild-card shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
To be honest, Arrieta talked like a No. 1 starter and carried himself as an ace even when he had to make a detour to Triple-A Iowa after getting traded from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season.
Arrieta earned his reputation as a workout freak, doing yoga and Pilates, studying nutrition and kinetics and leaving no doubt he will report to Arizona in optimal physical shape.
“Pro NY weekend to finally conclude the ‘15 season,” Arrieta tweeted last week. “Time to turn the page! Ready to work on this 2016 campaign.”
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The immediate question is whether Theo Epstein’s front office and Boras Corp. will settle on a one-year deal around the $10.25 million midpoint or push this to a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for the middle of February.
The Cubs filed at $7.5 million while Arrieta’s side countered at $13 million. Epstein has never taken an arbitration-eligible player to a hearing, either in his first four years running baseball operations on the North Side or his nine years as the Boston Red Sox general manager.
The bigger-picture question is how Arrieta responds to accounting for almost 250 innings during his breakthrough year, or 92 more than he threw in the big leagues in 2014.
“There’s unknown in pitching,” Epstein said. “There’s not too many certainties when you start thinking about pitching in general. So I think we’ll just be smart about it with how he goes about his spring training and how we try to manage his workload early in the season and ease him into it.
“But I think the fact that he was able to throw a ton of innings last year and stay healthy throughout the whole season is a really good sign for him handling a significant workload (again). We’ll just try to be really smart about it and keep him really fresh for the most important time of year.”
Arrieta made the Cubs feel invincible as they piled up 97 wins and made it through two playoff rounds, but 2016 will be about seeing what sort of price they will have to pay for that success.
“It was something that was uncharted for me,” Arrieta said. “To now be at that point, I feel like I know how to handle it. My body (should) respond very well to a similar workload this season. I’m just looking forward to getting close to that mark again this season.”
Speaking in general terms, Scott Boras also admitted this would have to be a concern during his media session at the general managers meetings in November, when the super-agent was feuding with the Miami Marlins about the Jose Fernandez situation and Matt Harvey’s innings-limit controversy was still fresh in the minds of New York writers and Mets fans.
“I’m not an orthopedic surgeon,” Boras said, not talking specifically about Arrieta, who unlike Fernandez and Harvey is not recovering from Tommy John surgery. “But when you talk to the doctors that do this, they’re always going to tell you that once you get 30 or 40 innings above where you were the year before – and you’ve never been there – there’s always a concern.
“The percentages of it are that some are just fine with it – and they weather it and they go through it – and some are effected by it. The exactness of those percentages vary from doctor to doctor, but that’s certainly what they tell us.”
Boras would also tell you that his data shows the hardest thing for a major-league pitcher to do is get beyond the fourth year. If you’re healthy and effective at that point, the agency’s numbers project a 10-year career.
Arrieta – who will turn 30 next month – is in the right place at the right time. He came across as someone who appreciated the journey to the top, giving credit to his teammates and taking the newfound fame in stride.
Now the Cubs will find out how many bullets are left in Arrieta’s right arm.
“It’s just kind of the unknown,” Arrieta said. “Not having gone over 200 innings before in my career…it is a significant jump. Regardless of how you prepare and how good a shape you’re in, there are certain things that are difficult to prepare for. But having that workload already under my belt, I think moving forward I’m going to be very capable of handling it.”