On Friday, the Cubs and starter Jake Arrieta avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season. The right-hander was entering his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. $10.7 million marks the largest one-year deal in history for a player with four years of service time.
Arrieta, 29, had filed for $13 million while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million, creating the biggest gap between an arbitration-eligible player and his respective team this offseason. The two sides settled at $450,000 above the midpoint. Had they gone to a hearing, an independent arbitrator would only choose one of the two submitted figures; either Arrieta’s $13 million or the Cubs’ $7.5 million, not an in-between figure. Considering Arrieta is the defending National League Cy Young Award winner, the Cubs may have saved themselves a few million dollars by settling.
This past season, Arrieta led the majors with 22 wins, four complete games, and three shutouts. He also compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 236/48 K/BB ratio over 229 innings. His performance netted him 17 of 30 first place votes in Cy Young balloting, narrowly exceeding the vote total of then-Dodger and now-Diamondback Zack Greinke.
Arrieta’s turnaround with the Cubs has been quite impressive. He was a former top prospect in the Orioles’ system – earning top-100 overall honors heading into the 2009 and ’10 seasons according to both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus – but struggled in his first three seasons in the big leagues. From 2010-12 in the majors, Arrieta had a 5.33 ERA with 254 strikeouts and 142 walks. Things continued to be bumpy in five starts with the Orioles in 2013, as he yielded 19 runs on 25 hits and 17 walks with 23 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. The O’s sent him along with Pedro Strop and cash to the Cubs in exchange for catcher Steve Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman. The Cubs saw immediate results, as Arrieta compiled a 3.66 ERA in nine starts, and he improved in 2014, finishing with a 2.53 ERA and a 167/41 K/BB ratio in 156 2/3 innings.
It’s easy to fault the Orioles for giving up on Arrieta, but sometimes a change of scenery works for any number of reasons: a clean slate, new coaches, better ballparks, and facing batting pitchers doesn’t hurt, either. Perhaps Arrieta was always doomed to fail in Baltimore.
Looking forward, fantasy owners should expect regression towards the mean for Arrieta. If he is able to maintain a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching five-to-one and better than a strikeout per inning pitched, Arrieta shouldn’t have any trouble posting an ERA below 2.50. But a 1.77 ERA is about a 98th percentile performance for almost every pitcher. That being said, one can still argue Arrieta should be the second pitcher taken off the board after Clayton Kershaw.
Orioles and Britton Settle
The Orioles and closer Zach Britton also avoided arbitration, doing so on Thursday. The two sides settled on a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season in the lefty’s second of four years of eligibility. Britton had filed for $7.9 million and the O’s countered at $5.6 million, making $6.75 the exact midpoint.
Britton has quietly been one of baseball’s best closers over the last two seasons, racking up 73 saves with an aggregate 1.77 ERA and a 141/37 K/BB ratio over 142 innings. Among relievers who have tossed at least 100 innings since the start of the 2014 season, only Wade Davis, Dellin Betances, Ken Giles, Darren O’Day, and Tony Watson have posted a lower ERA and only seven relievers have compiled more saves.
Though his ERA rose from 2014 to ’15, this past season was a major step up for Britton. His strikeout rate rose significantly from 21.8 percent in 2014 to 31.2 percent in ’15, while his respective walk rate declined from 8.1 percent to 5.5 percent. He is already one of the game’s premier ground ball pitchers, posting a 79 percent rate last season. That being said, Britton is still outside the top-five among fantasy baseball closers.
O’s Reconsidering Gallardo
MASN’s Steve Melewski wrote on Friday that the Orioles were reluctant to part with their first round draft pick in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club has had a change of heart, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. The club is reconsidering Gallardo and rechecking his medicals.
The Rangers picked up Gallardo from the Brewers for Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan. With his new team, Gallardo went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA and a 121/68 K/BB ratio over 184 1/3 innings. Solid enough numbers, especially considering he has now posted a sub-4.00 ERA in six of his last seven seasons.
There are warning flags, however. As I noted at HardballTalk on Sunday, Gallardo’s strikeout rate has been in steep decline since 2012, going from 23.7 percent to 18.6, 17.9, and 15.3 percent progressively. His fastball velocity has also plummeted, as last year’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low in any of his full seasons.
Still, the Orioles may want to snag him because the back end of the starting rotation is a giant question mark, currently made up of Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, Tyler Wilson, and others competing for two spots. Gallardo could come in, push Gausman to a comfortable #5 and act as a stabilizing factor, allowing the others to serve as depth as needed.
While the Orioles may want to speculate, fantasy owners shouldn’t. There will be plenty of higher-upside pitchers available at the back ends of drafts and in free agency during the season.
Quick Hits: Reds prospect Juan Duran was suspended 80 games after testing positive for Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone … The Blue Jays will reportedly attempt to sign Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion to multi-year deals … The Giants are interested in free agent utilityman Juan Uribe but feel his current asking price is too high … The agent for free agent reliever Joe Nathan (elbow) says the veteran plans to pitch in 2016 … The Giants signed infielder Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal on Friday … Starter Jesse Chavez won his arbitration case against the Blue Jays and will earn $4 million as a result in 2016 … The Blue Jays hired former manager Eric Wedge as a player development advisor … The Rays and Diamondbacks are both reportedly interested in free agent reliever Tyler Clippard … Veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia plans to retire after pitching in the Caribbean Series finals for Venezuela.