Cubs

Cubs: Where things stand with Jake Arrieta after Stephen Strasburg’s megadeal

Cubs: Where things stand with Jake Arrieta after Stephen Strasburg’s megadeal

“No,” Jake Arrieta said, he doesn’t believe in the concept of taking a hometown discount, sending a point-blank message through the reporters crowded around his locker wanting a reaction to Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $175 million extension with the Washington Nationals.

The Cubs can’t just sell Arrieta on Wrigley Field’s atmosphere, his friendships in the clubhouse and the chance to make history. Losing as a winning recruiting pitch can only go so far, and this two-year window might be the best shot to win a World Series here. Theo Epstein’s front office and the Ricketts family will have to show Arrieta the money – if the Cubs even want to make that kind of commitment to a pitcher who’s already 30 and can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season.

“I’ve made it clear that I like Chicago,” Arrieta said before Wednesday’s doubleheader against the San Diego Padres. “I think everybody knows that. If I had it my way, I’d stay here. But that’s just one side of the story.”

More than anything, the timing of the Strasburg announcement surprised Arrieta, who is also represented by super-agent Scott Boras. The news leaked out Monday night, when Strasburg got a no-decision in a win over the Detroit Tigers, leading into Tuesday’s news conference at Nationals Park, less than six months before he could hit the open market.

“The misconception is that Scott wants everybody to go to free agency,” Arrieta said. “For a lot of guys, it’s smart to do that. As we’ve seen in the past, a lot of Scott’s clients that have gone to free agency have been very well compensated and it worked out for them.”

Like Max Scherzer, who turned down an extension offer to stay in Detroit (reportedly six years and $144 million) and bet on himself, getting $210 million guaranteed from the Nationals.

Boras has framed Scherzer as a comparable pitcher for Arrieta, saying: “Every Cy Young Award winner I know got a seven-year contract.” The Cubs are believed to be more comfortable dealing in the four-year range.

“You want to be paid in respect to how your peers are paid,” Arrieta said. “I don’t think that changes with any guy you ask. Guys want to be compensated fairly.”

Arrieta played with Strasburg on the 2008 Olympic team. They competed against each other in college, Arrieta pitching for Texas Christian University while Strasburg developed into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft at San Diego State University.

“The money doesn’t surprise me – it’s what the guy is worth,” Arrieta said. “It’s obviously a really big contract for a guy who has had Tommy John (surgery). But that’s the price for starting pitching.

“I feel like every year it goes up slightly. This year’s free-agent class of pitchers is pretty thin, and even thinner now that Strasburg’s signed early.

“That’s why starting pitching is so valuable. There’s not many guys that can pitch at the top of the rotation just floating around.”

Arrieta – a thoughtful guy who speaks in full paragraphs on just about any topic you could think to ask about – clearly sees the economic landscape and his place within it.

If Arrieta (6-0, 1.13 ERA) keeps pitching like this, starts the All-Star Game, maybe throws another no-hitter and shines again in October, then he will get a huge payday through the arbitration system after earning $10.7 million this year.

“If you look at it financially,” Arrieta said, “it’s going to be close to what a free agent would get anyways. If you look at it, it’s pretty straightforward.”

Arrieta wouldn’t rule out the idea of negotiating during the season, but it doesn’t sound like that’s a priority right now, and it probably makes the most sense for both sides to let this ride.

“Well, in a perfect world, I would prefer it be done quickly,” Arrieta said. “If it’s going to happen, get it over with and let’s go play. Sometimes, it can be an uncomfortable situation having to talk about things like this around your teammates when we’re just trying to beat the Padres today. That’s why I don’t put a whole lot of thought into it.

“If they want to talk, they know where I’m at and we can get something going.” 

When baseball executives become rock stars, the Chicago media pushes a management-friendly viewpoint and generations of Cubs fans feel loyal toward the franchise, the story becomes what the player is willing to sacrifice, just how much he really wants to stay here. 

But the other side of that narrative would be: Are the Cubs willing to make that type of commitment to Arrieta? Would the Cubs show the same faith in Arrieta and reward him the way the Nationals trusted Strasburg?   

“You know more than I (do),” Arrieta said. “I don’t know.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Appreciating Jose Quintana

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Appreciating Jose Quintana

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with David Kaplan, Chris Kamka and Nate Poppen to discuss Jose Quintana's dominant stretch, the importance of this upcoming homestand, and the best moments of the LLWS Classic.

00:00:25

Examining the roller coaster week that ended with the Cubs winning their first road series since

00:02:21

Jose Quintana appreciation: Chris Kamka delivers some spectacular stats to back up Q's tremendous run since June 29th.

00:07:28

If the Cubs make the playoffs... would you pitch Quintana in Game 1?

00:08:28

The guys pick their favorite moments from the Little League World Series Classic.

00:10:03

Since we are talking about Little League... will we ever see a return to "situational hitting" and "small ball" in Major League Baseball?

00:12:53

Since the ball is "juiced" in 2019 - why are Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo not hitting more home runs? Chris Kamka thinks he has the answer to that question.

00:14:57

Chris Kamka examines the Cubs awful road record - which could have more to do with bad luck than people think.

00:18:16

Preview of this week's homestand, keeping in mind that the Brewers and Cardinals will face each other 6 times over 10 days.

00:20:53

Kap gets in his time machine and plays "what if" the Cubs didn't make a few trades/signings before and after the 2016 World Series.

00:24:45

Kap discusses the "level of expectations" that Cubs fans have now.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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How Albert Almora can benefit from his demotion, from someone who did just that

How Albert Almora can benefit from his demotion, from someone who did just that

It is Day 3 of Albert Almora Jr.'s demotion.

It reminds me of a rule I once heard about when I was coming up in the minor leagues and in big league camp: You get 72 hours of “mental leave” after a demotion. Rarely would anyone take it all because you want to play, or at least you want to show that you are hungry even after disappointment. How could you take a leave when you get to play baseball? And let’s not forget, every day you are not playing, someone else is gaining on you.

Almora was flirting with an All-Star appearance after the first half of 2018. He was hitting .319 with 19 doubles and a near .800 OPS at the break. This matched the expectations of the player the Cubs drafted in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft. He was already a world champion and now on his way to becoming an All-Star.

His 2018 first half came after Almora had a tough spring training. The center field job seemed to come down to the youth of Ian Happ and Almora. Almora had the defensive skills and the potential to hit for a high average, while Happ brought the athleticism, power, and three-outcome swagger. Happ then hits a home run on the first pitch of Opening Day as Almora’s future came into question, but then when Almora got the opportunity he thrived through May and June until the second half slowed him down.

This past week, his 2019 demotion has been framed as a developmental move made necessary because the team needs an offensive push to maximize run scoring opportunity. When sent down, players hear every explanation the same way. It is the parent saying to you, “This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.”

Almora has not been able to find a rhythm, which can happen any year and any time. In his case, his declining at-bats combined with the re-emergence of Happ, made for an opportunity issue for him. If the Cubs were rebuilding or the rest of the lineup was hitting like a well-oiled machine, Almora’s defense would take over as a key priority and would add value to his presence. Especially when defense has become so critical in the late innings.

It has also become more beneficial to Almora and any defensively skilled outfielder, as the Cubs maintain the offensive priorities in left-field where Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos’ strengths remain on the offensive side of the ball. Almora gives the Cubs leverage to cover for their bats in the late innings.

His 2019 metrics defensively have not flushed out his skills in ways that shine the best light on his game. He currently sits on -2 Defensive Runs Saved, which is one way to measure his performance. That puts him in the middle of the center field pack. Newly released Billy Hamilton was at +9 at the time of his being released, which does not help Almora’s defensive case. If Almora is not hitting like he did in the first half of the 2018, this becomes a bigger issue for his future opportunity.

In my first major league stint, I was called up on June 9, 1996, then sent back down in late July. I wasn’t playing much. A platoon here and there. Pinch running, pinch hitting. So when I did get sent down to play every day, part of me was looking forward to uninterrupted play. No double switches, matchups, metrics, pinches. Just go play and get your timing back. Despite wanting to be in the big leagues, a struggling player when confronted with rotting on the bench in a rhythmless ocean, or playing every day when he knows he will get called back up in a couple of weeks, may be able to find the silver lining. In fact, regardless, he needs to find it anyway.

That was true for in the early stages of my big league career, a pill much harder to swallow when you have had more established time in the major leagues as Almora has had. But, if you can take two weeks and find your swing that takes you through a long career, it is worth it. You just can’t see it at the time. That outcome certainly beats playing sporadically for the rest of your career. The idea of a long career will look brighter and brighter, even if it is hard to see when the disappointment of being sent down is clouding your vision.

For Almora, this is a time for the long view. A humbling time which spares no one in this game. All players slow down, all struggle at some point. Even the best of the best. Almora just had not reached the place in his career where the struggle is seen as the exception not the rule.

When he returns, the Cubs will still be on that final push for the pennant. He could be a key contributor in this effort, even though he may not be automatically penciled in the lineup as a starter. He will still have an important role, not to mention an audition for the post-season roster and beyond.

It comes down to what he puts into his time in Triple-A. A time when he can tap what he learned from big leaguers when he had just signed. Early on, I learned that much of the veteran mentorship focused on learning patience, staying positive, building confidence. Many of the fixes after a demotion are beyond the physical and mechanical, but getting into a certain space that allows you to be your best.

Right now for Almora, it could just be playing time. Time that he can depend on, time to reflect, time without the high media alerts or the versatility that makes consistency hard to achieve.

Either way, he will be back and the Cubs are wondering which half he will be. They also know, they need the first half 2018 Almora to show up in September. This only helps their chances.

He knows it and if it is any indication, going 2 for 4 with a double in his first game in Iowa certainly is a good start.