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.”