Why Jake Arrieta thinks he can pitch until he’s 40 (with or without the Cubs)

Why Jake Arrieta thinks he can pitch until he’s 40 (with or without the Cubs)

MESA, Ariz. – Scott Boras compared Jake Arrieta to Max Scherzer before his other client had captured a Cy Young Award, made an All-Star team, won two World Series games…or even finished a full season in the big leagues.

This was August 2015 in the Boras Corp. suite at Dodger Stadium, roughly 48 hours before the onesie no-hitter on ESPN. So, yeah, Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals will become part of the backdrop when/if the Cubs engage in full-scale negotiations with Arrieta's camp.

Arrieta will be 32 by Opening Day 2018, though Boras will point to the pitching odometer (roughly 1,000 innings so far). Subtle isn't the default setting for a super-agent, but another pitch can be made around the idea of Arrieta's know-how, intellectual curiosity, nutrition program and Pilates regimen.

All those attributes make Arrieta think he could pitch until he's 40.

"Look at (John) Lackey," Arrieta said, amplifying his comments made to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and MLB Network. "He says he's going to retire after this year, but watch him throw. He's healthy. He’s got velocity. He knows how to pitch. He's got great command.

"If he wanted to, he could probably pitch another three years. Rich Hill signed a three-year deal. He's going to pitch until he's 40. If I want to, I think I'll still be able to. Why not? I might not want to, though.

"At that point, I'm going to have kids that are in need of coaches. It would be nice maybe to spend a little bit more time with them and be a part of their sports and taking them to practice in an Aerovan or Astro Van or whatever it is."

When a reporter said that a juice bar can't run itself, Arrieta joked about his many off-the-field interests: "Yeah, I'm looking for good people. If you need a job…let me know."

Arrieta will still be his own best advocate – more persuasive than any glossy Boras Corp. binder – with another Bob Gibson-esque performance in his walk year. Arrieta cruised through five innings against a Triple-A squad from the Los Angeles Angels on Friday afternoon at the Sloan Park complex and understands that he will have to make concessions and keep adjusting.

"You evolve," Arrieta said. "I've heard since my rookie year that all you got to do is put it in the zone and you're going to get guys out. So as I've gotten a little older, I've really started to embrace that and pitch accordingly.

"I was close to 100 (mph) in college, but you don't need that. Low-to-mid 90s, four pitches, some maturity, a good scouting report, a good catcher, that's all you need."

This might be the biggest takeaway from an All-Star season where Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA and still went through stretches where the Cubs didn't really know what they were going to get from start to start.

[MORE CUBS: Eloy Jimenez made a huge impression on Joe Maddon in Cubs camp]

"I didn't have my A-stuff half the year last year," Arrieta said. "It doesn't matter, though. There are still plenty of ways to get guys out, changing speeds, changing eye level, relying on movement versus high-end velocity. I didn't have my cutter for a good part of the year. That's a pretty good sign.

"It's not a guarantee that you're going to have certain things, even for a season. It might sound crazy. But I guarantee if you talk to (Jon) Lester or Lackey, they can probably name you two or three seasons where they missed a pitch or maybe even two.

"Pitching is a crazy job. You can completely lose it for no rhyme or reason. It just kind of happens. And then out of the blue, there it is again. Regardless of the work you put in, sometimes it just kind of eludes you. You just keep working."

Too soon to start the "Grandpa Jake" Instagram account?

"I'm hoping I don't have a salt-and-pepper beard," Arrieta said. "I don't have the best hair anymore, but I'm hoping this stays dark. But, yeah, I'll be a grandfather to these kids in five or six years. Why not?" 

Because Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer haven't shown that type of appetite for a long-term deal yet, and Boras can't go over their heads to chairman Tom Ricketts, who leaves those decisions to baseball operations.

"It would be cool, for sure, but the business is the business," Arrieta said. "They're not dummies. They do what they do. There's a rhyme and reason for why they make the moves they do. They have to put what they feel is the team's best interest and the organization's best interest first.

"I would do the same thing. That's just something that they will decide one way or another, which way they want to go. And then we'll handle it.

"Something could come up. Something might not come up. Both are OK."

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is home in Kansas City for a couple rare days during the baseball season. His mom wants to meet him for lunch, and his sister, a grade-school teacher in town, just had a baby that he hasn’t had a chance to see yet.

“How much would I love to go get to see her and my new nephew?” Hottovy said. “Can’t do it. Just can’t.”

Not this time. Not with what’s at stake. Not when possible threats to health and professional purpose lurk in every unfamiliar hallway, byway and unmasked face while the Cubs navigate their first multi-city road trip of the season.

Don’t believe the risk of spread and large-scale COVID-19 team outbreaks are that sensitive, extreme and potentially swift? Just ask the Marlins and Cardinals, whose outbreaks in the first week of play put their seasons on hold and threatened the status of the league’s season.

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“I’m not leaving the hotel. I told my family and friends and everybody [in Kansas City],” Hottovy said. “We all signed up for this, to make sure that for this to work we all have to make those kinds of sacrifices. I love my family to death and would love to get to see them, but right now this is our home.”

The Cubs second trip, which started with a 6-1 victory Wednesday in Kansas City and continues to St. Louis before finishing in Cleveland next week, coincides with stepped-up COVID-19 protocols from Major League Baseball following the Marlins and Cardinals outbreaks.

The Cubs already had protocols in place that exceeded MLB’s original mandates and that are in compliance with the new mandates. And a month into the league’s restart they remained the only team without a player having tested positive for the virus.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

In fact, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant decided on his own to start wearing a protective mask on the bases when the Cubs played last week in Cincinnati, where three Reds players were sidelined either by positive tests or self-reported symptoms as that series opened. And first baseman Anthony Rizzo told ESPN 1000 on Tuesday that he plans to keep a mask in his pocket while in the field in St. Louis and will consider wearing it when somebody reaches base.

“No matter what measures you put in place, when you’re trying to pull off a season that requires travel in the middle of a global pandemic, it ultimately does come down to personal responsibility,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “And everyone is at the mercy of the least responsible person because of the nature of the spread of this disease.”

Nobody knows that more than Hottovy and many of the Cubs who watched their pitching coach deteriorate in real time during daily Zoom sessions in May and June until the worst symptoms of his frightening monthlong bout with the virus forced him to hand off his job duties.

Whether Hottovy’s experience led directly to the Cubs’ more extreme safety policies or the individual players’ apparent hyper diligence, MLB’s recent coronavirus outbreaks and other cases at least raise questions about whether some teams and players — or even the league — respect the potential severity of a virus that has killed more than 158,000 Americans in five months.

“I don’t think people underestimate that aspect of it; I think they underestimated how easy it was to spread,” Hottovy said of the outbreaks — including a Cardinals outbreak that reportedly was traced to one asymptomatic, outside individual familiar with the team.

Hottovy called the highly contagious nature of the virus “the scary part of this,” both in terms of the potential to quickly render an organization unable to field a team as well as the subsequent, inherent risk that poses to family members and others who might, in turn, be among those who then become severely impacted by the virus.

And the hardest part, he said, is not letting down your guard within the team bubble when it’s easy to trust that when it’s only teammates in the room that it’s OK to disregard masks, distancing and other safety measures.

“That’s when it gets dangerous,” said Hottovy, whose team talks often about assuming everyone — including each other — has the virus.

So just like in Cincinnati, neither he nor anyone else in the Cubs’ traveling party plans to go anywhere but to and from hotels and ballparks during their trip.

“Listen, you don’t have to search too far for a reason to take it serious,” Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said.

“I have three of my close friends who got it, that are over it. But the symptoms are as real as it gets from the sounds of it. And I think you have guys who are risking stuff coming and playing this season, whether it’s Craig [Kimbrel] and his daughter [heart condition] or Anthony [Rizzo] and Jon [Lester] with their [cancer] history.

“You’re paying respect to them and doing your teammate justice by not being the one to kind of go out,” Kipnis added. “It’s one of those years where, hey, you’ve got to buckle down and stay the course. I think everybody’s going through it, so you don’t want to be the one that kind of screws this one up.

The Cubs’ 10-2 start to a 60-game season seems to further incentivize that discipline — some players in recent days even suggesting the discipline in following the protocols has carried into the professionalism on the field.

It’s impossible to know if any of it will be enough for the Cubs to keep their moving bubble secure, much less whether the two outbreaks that MLB seems to have withstood will provide the significant enough wakeup call that MLB and team officials have suggested.

“The vast, vast majority of everyone involved in this enterprise, the players and staff, are doing a solid job so far in making a lot of sacrifices,” Epstein said. “And we just have to get everybody on board. And hopefully these two outbreaks are enough to get everyone to the point where we have essentially perfect execution going forward, because that’s largely what it will take.”


Cubs' David Ross defends Javier Báez, doesn't 'nitpick' baserunning lapse

Cubs' David Ross defends Javier Báez, doesn't 'nitpick' baserunning lapse

Cubs shortstop Javier Báez recognizes he should have run out of the batter’s box.

“It was my mistake,” Báez said after Wednesday’s 6-1 Cubs win over the Royals. “I thought that ball was foul.”

With two on and no out in the fourth inning Wednesday, Báez hit a towering pop fly down the right field foul line. He hesitated in the batter’s box for a few moments, leaving shortly before the ball dropped in fair just inside the line.

“I kind of lost it, but the wind started bringing it back,” Báez said. “Even [Royals catcher Salvador Pérez] was kind of surprised and he was like, ‘I think it’s gonna be fair,’ so I started running.”

Báez wound up with an RBI single, scoring Kris Bryant from second and moving Anthony Rizzo to third with no outs. He likely could have wound up at second base with a double, setting up the Cubs with two runners in scoring position and no outs. 

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The inning ended shortly after, as Willson Contreras grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, scoring Rizzo to take a 2-1 lead, and David Bote struck out two batters later. In the end, the moment didn’t hurt the Cubs, who never trailed after taking that fourth inning lead.

After the game, Cubs manager David Ross defended Báez and said he didn’t talk to him about running that ball out.

“I think that’s a really close play,” Ross said. “If I want to be the type of manager that nitpicks every little thing... These guys go out and play their butt off every single night for me and for this group. 

“If I feel like they’re dogging it, we’ll have a conversation. I feel like that’s a play that he may have assumed was foul. I think Javy’s one of the most exciting players and he plays hard every time I see him out there on the field. 

“So, I don’t have a problem with a guy that brings it every single day.”