Cubs

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 still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.