SARASOTA, Fla. – The Phillies have their pitcher.
And he’s one of the best in the business.
Ramp-up the rebuild. Raise the expectations. Jake Arrieta is coming to Philadelphia.
The Phillies on Sunday reached an agreement in principle with the free-agent right-hander, according to multiple baseball sources. The multi-year deal is contingent on the pitcher passing a physical exam this week.
The Phillies have not confirmed the deal. USA Today reported that it would be a three-year deal worth $75 million. Arrieta will become the Phillies’ second big free-agent signing this winter. They signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million in December.
The Phillies forfeited a draft pick (second-round) to sign Santana. They will lose their third-round pick for signing Arrieta. The Phillies have been very protective of their draft picks during their rebuild. Signing Arrieta is an indication that club officials believe the rebuild is nearing an end and contention is close.
Arrieta, 32, was the National League Cy Young Award winner in 2015 while winning 22 games and posting a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He won 16 games the following year to help the Cubs win the World Series. He went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 30 starts for the Cubs in 2017. He has averaged 30 starts the last four seasons but suffered a much talked-about dip in fastball velocity the last two.
Arrieta will lead a Phillies staff that includes Aaron Nola, who has already been named Phillies’ opening day starter. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are also expected to be in the starting five. Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Mark Leiter and Ben Lively are also in the mix for a spot.
Arrieta and Yu Darvish were the two big pitching prizes on this year’s free-agent market. Ironically, the Cubs pursued and signed Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal, while Arrieta walked.
Heading into the offseason, the Phillies were very clear in their desire to add starting pitching. However, club officials distanced themselves from Arrieta and Darvish because of the length of deals the pitchers were seeking. Phillies officials are wary of lengthy deals for pitchers over 30.
Arrieta hit the market in November reportedly seeking a deal that would push seven years and $180 to $200 million. The Phillies weren’t about to play in that realm, but they made it clear to Arrieta’s representatives that they’d be open to something in the three-year range. Months later, with spring training well underway, Arrieta’s market came down to that term and now the Phillies got their man.
Similarly, the Phils played the same waiting game with Santana and got him on a three-year deal. New manager Gabe Kapler has made “Be Bold” his motto for the 2018 season. General manager Matt Klentak’s patience, and ownership’s deep pockets, resulted in the unions with Santana and Arrieta and that will make it a lot easier to be bold.
Neither of these deals are cheap. The Phillies have long made it clear that length of contract is more of a concern with them than money. So, in the final tally, they spent $169 million this winter on Arrieta, Santana and relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, all free agents.
Will these signings lead the Phillies back to October baseball for the first time since 2011?
Opening day is 18 days away. Answers will soon begin to unfold.