Jake Arrieta knows what Dallas Keuchel is going through: 'It's gonna be hard for him'

Jake Arrieta knows what Dallas Keuchel is going through: 'It's gonna be hard for him'

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jake Arrieta last offseason went through what Dallas Keuchel has gone through this offseason. It's March 9 and Arrieta hasn't even been a Phillie for a full year. He signed last year on March 11, which allowed him enough time to make only two starts in spring training. He got hit around — not that Grapefruit League results matter — and wasn't ready for the first week of the season.

Keuchel is a Scott Boras client, like Arrieta, Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins. Keuchel, like Arrieta last winter, is experiencing how the economics of baseball have changed. If Keuchel or Arrieta experienced the same career success they've had but reached free agency in 2015 or 2016, they may have gotten nine-figure contracts. 

That was back when more than just the tippy-top free agents found huge contracts.

Instead, Arrieta ended up with a three-year, $75 million deal last offseason — still a ton of money but $50 million less than Yu Darvish. 

Keuchel will likely have to accept less than Arrieta. He may not get three guaranteed years.

Teams have more data now, more of a sample size of bad contracts to look back to. Few clubs are willing to pay for past performance, and many question how long a pitcher can stay effective into his 30s.

Obviously, Keuchel and Boras haven't received the offer they're seeking. And as a result, one of the top lefties in the game the last five years is still unsigned with opening day less than three weeks away.

Which means Keuchel, 31, could be exposed to some early-season hardships because of how much his typical spring routine has been delayed.

"I just think it's so different as a starting pitcher, having to build arm strength, get up to 100 pitches," Arrieta said Saturday after making his second spring start.

"It's gonna be hard for him, it just is. That's why spring training is so valuable. You can throw as much long toss, throw as many bullpens as you want, but until you're in uniform, in front of a crowd, umpire behind the plate, facing hitters on a routine basis, it's just not the same. 

"Obviously, the career he's had, he's a veteran guy, he'll catch on quick. But there's gonna be a period of time where he feels like he's not able to catch up. I had that for a couple weeks. It's just how it goes. Not to say it's impossible to hit the ground running, but there will be challenges there for him.

"I would be glad to have him here. He'd make us better, that's for sure. No question about it."

Arrieta's 2018 was up and down. He was excellent in April, May and July. He struggled in August and posted ERAs over 6.00 in June and September.

With a full spring training, his knee issue a thing of the past and a return to the arm slot that led him to plenty of previous success, Arrieta and the Phillies are hoping he's a more reliable top-of-the-rotation starter in 2019. It would significantly raise the ceiling of this team if he can maintain an ERA in the low-3.00s. 

In front of a better defense, there's reason to believe Arrieta's contact-heavy approach will bear more fruit this year. The first inning of Saturday's game was an example — Jean Segura made a running, barehanded pickup of a spinning ball and threw to first to retire the first batter of the game. A few batters later, J.T. Realmuto fired a strike to second base to nab a would-be base stealer. Two baserunners erased by strong defense.

"That barehanded play in the first, that was a changeup off the end of the bat. That's an incredibly athletic play from the shortstop," Arrieta said.

"We've got a very strong defense. We're gonna do our best as a staff to utilize that and that will reiterate to our guys to pitch to contact, to be aggressive in the strike zone. Let those guys work behind us."

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Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Two weeks into free agency, the Braves have been more active than any team. Their biggest move was Thursday's signing of left-hander Will Smith, the top reliever on the market.

Prior to that, Atlanta brought back three of its own would-be-free-agents in right fielder Nick Markakis, catcher Tyler Flowers and reliever Darren O'Day.

The Smith signing is definitely the highest impact move of the bunch and makes the Braves a lot better. His deal is for a reported $40 million over three years. He is coming off his first All-Star appearance and back-to-back stellar years. He was 6-0 with 34 saves and a 2.76 ERA for the Giants in 2019, he struck out 96 in 65⅓ innings and he held lefties to a .157/.167/.229 batting line. Read that again ... 157/.167/.229!

Bryce Harper will face Smith many times over the next three years. The teams meet 19 times per season and you'd figure Smith will face Harper in a high-leverage situation whenever the game is late and close. Harper is 0 for 8 with five strikeouts lifetime against Smith. Smith will also factor into plenty of matchups with Juan Soto.

The Braves tried various closing formulas in 2018. They went through Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Shane Greene and Melancon. For most of the season, the ninth-inning was a weakness, yet the Braves still won 97 games. 

Melancon will return in 2020 and could still close, but Smith is another very good option if he falters. It would probably make more sense for the Braves to try to use Melancon as the ninth-inning guy to free up Smith for high-leverage spots against lefties in the eighth or even seventh inning.

Why did Smith sign so quickly? For a couple reasons. First, $40 million over three years is a sweet contract for a reliever. He may not have beaten this deal even by waiting. But his representatives also effectively leveraged Thursday's qualifying offer deadline against teams interested in Smith. There was at least a threat that Smith could accept the Giants' one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer if a better alternative was not presented by Nov. 14. That created more urgency on the Braves' part.

Removing Smith's name from the free-agent relief market further depletes an already light market. The top two potential free-agent relievers were set to be Smith and Aroldis Chapman, but Smith is a Brave in mid-November and Chapman returned to the Yankees on a new deal.

With Smith off the board, the top free-agent reliever might be longtime lefty starter Drew Pomeranz. In 25 appearances with the Brewers after a midseason trade, Pomeranz had a 2.39 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 45 strikeouts in 26⅓ innings. He's generated a ton of buzz this winter and should also find a lucrative multi-year contract.

Chris Martin, Sergio Romo, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson and Dellin Betances are the best free-agent bullpen arms left. There are also trade candidates like Ken Giles, Raisel Iglesias and maybe Ian Kennedy if the Royals eat most of his remaining $22.5 million.

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Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies went into this offseason prioritizing a contract extension for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Even as the Phils pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman, they are quietly trying to hammer out that extension, according to multiples sources. 

But the extension might not come before the New Year. It might not even come before the opening of spring training.

Don’t panic. Realmuto solidified his status as the top catcher in baseball by winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2019. The Phillies very much want to prevent him from becoming a free agent after next season and Realmuto, for months, has professed his affection for the Phillies and Philadelphia as well as his desire to stick around.

“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” he said in July. 

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is projected to get an extension of four or five years with an average annual value of $20 million or more. By starting the extension in 2021, the AAV of Realmuto’s deal would not count toward the 2020 payroll and thus affect luxury-tax calculations. For tax purposes, the Phillies currently have about $116 million committed to nine players for 2020. Even with Realmuto’s 2020 salary still to be determined and raises due to a number of other players, the Phils do not appear to be in jeopardy of reaching the $208 million tax threshold in 2020 and have the room to pursue top free agents. But pushing Realmuto’s extension back to 2021 would allow for even more room under the tax threshold and that could come in handy this winter or even at the July trade deadline.

After the 2020 season, the Phils will gain some payroll flexibility as Jake Arrieta’s $25 million AAV and David Robertson’s $11.5 million AAV come off the books just as Realmuto’s extension would kick in.

The Phillies have never exceeded the tax threshold. Teams exceeding it for the first time pay 20 percent on every dollar they go over. Last month, owner John Middleton offered his thoughts about exceeding the tax threshold.

“I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team,” Middleton said. “That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Other than expressing a desire to extend the relationship, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has steadfastly declined comment on the status of talks with Realmuto on a possible extension. Klentak continued that tack at this week’s GM meetings.

“We love J.T.,” Klentak said. “Every week, it seems like he’s winning a new award. What all of that is doing is confirming what a lot of us have felt for a long time. This guy is the real deal. He can do everything. At some point in this offseason, we will likely talk to him about trying to keep him in the fold beyond his control years and hopefully we’ll line up on something.”

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