Why Jake Arrieta’s countdown to free agency shouldn’t become a distraction for Cubs

Why Jake Arrieta’s countdown to free agency shouldn’t become a distraction for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta’s machismo and sense of loyalty to Boras Corp. means he will very likely become a free agent – a source confirmed the Cubs don’t have any ongoing extension negotiations or scheduled talks – but he’s still willing to listen to the pitch.    

“I think there’s an open dialogue there,” Arrieta said before Wednesday’s first formal workout for pitchers and catchers at the Sloan Park complex. “I believe we will have talks. (But) it’s not my No. 1 priority.

“I just wanted to focus on my health and coming into camp as well-rested and in as good a shape as I possibly can. That’s the position I’m in. If we have those conversations, we’ll sit down and hash some things out, see if we can get something worked out.

“If it happens, great. If not, I’ll continue to move forward, take it day by day and focus on being as good as I can.”

The expectation is that Arrieta – who will be 32 years old by Opening Day 2018 – will test the market after this season as part of a rich pitching class that could also include Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto.

Making it through a long spring training in Arizona, another season in the 200-inning range and what the Cubs hope will be a deep playoff run is essential for someone super-agent Scott Boras has compared to another Cy Young Award-winning client: Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals’ $210 million ace.

Even if Arrieta never reaches that stratosphere, there could be the sense that he doesn’t have that much left to accomplish in Chicago. And the Cubs might already be scared off by the long-term commitment, feeling like they maxed out their returns and won the lottery with that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

“Time flies really quickly,” Arrieta said. “It feels like only a few months ago that I was traded over here and starting my career as a Cub in 2013. I’ve had some incredible experiences with this organization. I owe a lot to this team and this organization and the ownership.

“I don’t want to see that time come to an end – my time as a Cub – but unfortunately the business side of the game shows its head every once in a while.

“I still think there’s opportunity and chances that we can have good conversations as far as an extension’s concerned and see if we can get something worked out.”   

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In terms of distractions, well, this is someone who: trolled Pittsburgh Pirates fans on Twitter before throwing a complete-game wild-card shutout in 2015; responded “Who gives a s---?” when asked about last year’s potential first-round playoff opponent; will be making $15.6375 million this season.  

“Once you get to a certain point in your career financially, it’s a little bit easier to kind of put that out of mind,” Arrieta said. “It’s not a big worry for myself individually. I think the less of a distraction that can (be) on the team – and everyone in this clubhouse – the better.

“I don’t typically like to verbalize a lot of the things from an individual contract situation, just because it can take some attention away from what we’re trying to do here collectively.”

Even without any movement toward a long-term deal, the Cubs and Arrieta’s camp also aren’t working under any self-imposed deadlines or orders to not negotiate during the season. 

“We obviously want to keep all that stuff in-house, as we would with any player,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “The only thing I would say is we have a great relationship with Jake. We’ve been super-open. He’s been here since 2013 and I think the individual relationships are all really strong and with that comes an open dialogue.”  

The bottom line is that the Cubs need a healthy, locked-in Arrieta to defend their World Series title. And Arrieta needs a strong, consistent platform season to cash in with an ace-level megadeal.     

“Honestly, it can be a positive for him and for us,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Obviously, if you’re in that year, you’re really wanting to put your best foot forward to attract the best contract (for) the next season.

“He’s all about winning. He wants to make all of his starts for the other guys in the room. That’s where his mind is at right now.

“If he makes all of his starts, just that point alone is going to mean the numbers are going to be good enough to attract a lot of suitors.

“If you’re good, the numbers are going to pop.”   

Classic Cubs games we'd like to watch again during baseball's hiatus

Classic Cubs games we'd like to watch again during baseball's hiatus

Man, do we miss baseball. All we have for now are rebroadcasts of old games, but those can be a lot of fun to watch as well.

In the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, the Outside the Ivy guys — Danny Rocket, Luis Medina and Michael Cerami — discuss which old Cubs games they would like to watch again. We asked the members of our Cubs content team to tell us what past game is must-see (again) TV.

Gordon Wittenmyer — vs. Pirates, Sept. 24, 1984

Even three months after joining the Cubs in a trade from Cleveland, Rick Sutcliffe didn’t understand the historical significance of the playoff berth he was driving the Cubs toward in September of 1984.

As he walked to the bullpen near the stands at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium for his final start of a Cy Young season, Sutcliffe saw a family of Cubs fans holding up a sign: “39 Years of Suffering is Enough.”

“I always used to find a kid to give my warmup ball to. And as I got done warming up, I brought the dad and kid down,” Sutcliffe recalled during a recent spring training. “And I said, ‘What does that sign mean?’ He said, ‘Well, we haven’t been to the playoffs in 39 years.’

“I wasn’t trying to be cocky or anything, but I said, ‘Here, hold onto this ball, because I’m telling you right now, after tonight that’s all going to change.’ “

RELATED: 13 best trades in Cubs franchise history

Talk about making good on a promise. Sutcliffe drove in the second run of the game with a two-out single in the second and pitched a complete game that Sept. 24 night to earn a 4-1 victory as the Cubs clinched their first playoff berth since 1945.

Sutcliffe, who struck out nine without a walk in a two-hit gem, picked off Joe Orsulak at first to end the sixth and then retired the final nine batters he faced. The only run he allowed scored on a grounder after a leadoff triple by Orsulak in the fourth.

History? Playoffs?

“Until that time, I didn’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t a real history guy.

“I came from Cleveland so we didn’t need to worry about playoffs.”

Tim Stebbins — vs. Mariners, July 31, 2016

If you watch this game with zero context, you'll think I'm crazy. The Mariners jumped out to a 6-0 lead after three innings, hitting three two-run homers off spot starter Brian Matusz — whom the Cubs signed to a minor league deal a month prior.

Trailing by three entering the ninth, the Cubs plated two runs off Steve Cishek to get within one. Down to their last strike, they knotted things at six on a Cishek wild pitch (emphasis on wild). A Jason Heyward double put the Cubs in business in the 12th, and after advancing to third on a flyout, Heyward scored the winning run on a Jon Lester walk-off bunt.

Yes, a Lester walk-off bunt. 

RELATED: All-time best Cubs players by jersey number

Before the exciting finish, Joe Maddon moved reliever Travis Wood (who already tossed 1 1/3 innings) to left field, and Wood made a catch against the ivy in the seventh that would've been tough for an actual outfielder. 

A Jon Lester walk-off and Travis Wood outfield appearance? This game was something else.

Nate Poppen — vs. Brewers, Sept. 12-13, 1998

The back-to-back walkoff wins against the Brewers Sept. 12-13, 1998 at Wrigley. Orlando Merced’s three-run bomb on Saturday capped a five-run bottom of the ninth to give the Cubs a 15-12 win. Then on Sunday, Mark Grace’s solo shot in the bottom of the 10th was the difference in an 11-10 victory. Fifteen-year-old me had no idea September baseball could actually mean something.

Lou Melgarejo — vs. Cardinals, April 22, 1980

The 16-12 win over the Cardinals on April 22, 1980. Barry Foote hit a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie it at 12, and added a walk-off grand slam in the ninth as the Cubs erased a 12-6 deficit to win 16-12. By the way, Foote went 4-for-6 with 8 RBIs in the contest.

Jeff Nelson — vs. Mets, Aug. 7, 1984

I was lucky enough to attend the Aug. 7, 1984 doubleheader against the Mets at Wrigley. The Cubs scored six times in the fifth inning of the opener and went on to an 8-6 win. In the nightcap (or daycap, since Wrigley didn’t have any lights at this time), the Cubs scored five runs off Mets starter (and future Cub GM) Ed Lynch in an 8-4 victory.

The division lead was up to 3 1/2 games, and the Cubs never looked back en route to their first playoff appearance in 39 years.

Mike Piff — Sept. 28, 1998

Sept. 28, 1998. Game 163 at Wrigley between the Cubs and Giants. Michael Jordan, wearing a Sammy Sosa jersey, threw out the first pitch. Steve Trachsel threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, Gary Gaetti homered and Rod Beck got the save as the Cubs won 5-3 to advance to the playoffs.

RELATED: How Cubs’ Nico Hoerner is making an impact in Chicago during shutdown

Joe Collins — Sept. 27, 2003

Sept. 27, 2003. The Cubs swept a doubleheader from the Pirates, winning the opener 4-2 with Mark Prior getting his 18th win of the year. Then in the nightcap, a five-run second inning propelled them to a 7-2 win, clinching the NL Central. I went as a fan for both games, and immediately after the final out I went to work for CLTV gathering postgame sound. Fun times.

Lou Melgarejo — Oct. 1, 1932

Oct. 1, 1932. Game 3 of the World Series between the Cubs and the Yankees. Did Babe Ruth really call his shot? The television broadcast is sure to give us an answer.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Outside the Ivy crew explores ways to start the season


Cubs Talk Podcast: The Outside the Ivy crew explores ways to start the season

In for David Kaplan, Jeff Nelson is joined by Luis Medina, Danny Rocket, and Michael Cerami of Outside the Ivy as they discuss creative ways Major League Baseball can start its season, how has this impacted baseball fans everywhere, and will the new rules the MLB will use will benefit new manager David Ross.

(1:20) - Staying busy with no baseball to talk about

(8:00) - How will David Ross manage in his 1st year?

(14:00) - How can baseball start without fans?

(21:20) - Electronic strike zones possibility

(27:00) - Mic'ing players up who would sit in the stands

Listen here or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.