Cubs

Cubs reportedly willing to bring Jake Arrieta back — but only if contract size is right

Cubs reportedly willing to bring Jake Arrieta back — but only if contract size is right

The Cubs have holes to fill in the starting rotation. And they've reportedly been trying to plug them with some top-of-the-line free-agent talent, namely Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb.

But as offseason activity remains virtually non-existent for all teams and the talk of what the Cubs' starting staff will look like come Opening Day continues, one option remains relatively undiscussed: Why not bring back Jake Arrieta?

The 2015 National League Cy Young winner's free-agent departure is the reason the Cubs have adding a front-of-the-rotation guy so high on their offseason to-do list. But Arrieta seemingly checks many of the boxes when it comes to someone the Cubs want to team with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana — not to mention the recently added Tyler Chatwood — to form a formidable starting rotation that can stage a run for a second World Series championship in three seasons.

According to a Tuesday report from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs would be willing to bring Arrieta back to the North Side. But of course there's a catch, the same catch that seems to be holding things up everywhere this offseason: money. Well, more specifically it's money and years, as Nightengale outlines that the Cubs would be fine with inking Arrieta to a four-year contract worth $110 million. But Arrieta and his representation are supposedly looking for something lengthier, more in the vein of a five- or six-year deal, which according to Nightengale the Cubs are not so cool with.

Don't rush to call Arrieta unreasonable. According to other reports, Darvish and Cobb are seeking something similar. And for both Arrieta and Darvish, both 31 years old, this is the expected move to try and get an expensive, lengthy contract while still in their prime. But their ages, too, describe the risk for the Cubs or any team that would acquiesce and agree to a pact as long as five or six years. But is age-related decline a few years down the road worth what either pitcher can provide now when it comes to winning a World Series? That's the debate, and that's why the Cubs and all other teams have yet to lock down any of these guys.

Obviously bringing Arrieta back would have its positives. The guy has been one of the NL's top pitchers for the past three seasons, combining in 2015, 2016 and 2017 to post a 2.71 ERA and strike out 589 hitters in just shy of 600 innings. He's been a big part of the Cubs reaching three consecutive NL Championship Series and winning that curse-smashing championship in 2016.

It's true the numbers jumped up a little last season, with his ERA at 3.53, his highest since 2013. And while he still started 30 games, his innings took a dramatic dip, down almost 30 from where he was in 2016, a season in which he made just one more start.

But while Arrieta's desired contract might've seen an unreachable sum a week ago, remember too that things have changed since, with Wade Davis agreeing to a record contract with the Colorado Rockies. The Cubs, likely no longer in pursuit of a high-priced closer, could shift those resources to their pursuit of a high-priced pitcher. And maybe they'd be more willing to spend money and time on Arrieta (or Darvish or Cobb or someone else) now that a contract doesn't need to be offered up to Davis.

Then there's the big picture, though, in which resources potentially need to be reserved for next winter's Bryce Harper sweepstakes and for the day when the team's young position players are ready to hit free agency. In other words, it's a tricky puzzle and one not solved easily.

But maybe the best way to fill the Arrieta-sized hole in the starting rotation is with Arrieta himself. It seems the Cubs are willing if the price is right.

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

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USA TODAY

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.