CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies clubhouse buzzed with excitement Monday afternoon. Jake Arrieta is on his way and the stakes have been raised for this club.
“I don’t know what other thought there would be other than it’s a great move for us,” catcher Cameron Rupp said. “How can you think otherwise? It’s exciting. It’s a guy who has established himself in the big leagues, been to a World Series. There’s a lot of good things that can come from not only having him on our pitching staff, but in our clubhouse as well.
“I’m sure that predictive stat of how many games we’re going to win just went up.
“There’s a lot of good things happening here. It’s nice to see it.”
Arrieta's three-year, $75 million contract became official when he passed his physical exam in Philadelphia on Monday. He will be introduced Tuesday at a 9 a.m. news conference in Clearwater. To make room for Arrieta on the 40-man roster, the Phillies designated Tommy Joseph for assignment (see story).
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) March 13, 2018
The Phillies won just 66 games last season, though they did play .500 ball over their final 76 games. They would likely need to improve their overall win total by 20 to nibble around the second wild-card spot. Improvement in all corners of the roster is needed, but with Arrieta and Aaron Nola accounting for 40 percent of the club’s starts, the Phillies’ chances are better today than they were yesterday.
At the very least, Arrieta's signing indicates that the organization’s tack is shifting from rebuilding to contending.
“It shows that the turning of the tide is a lot sooner than I think we all thought,” pitcher Jerad Eickhoff said. “This whole camp has been real positive and there was this sense that it could happen sooner than later, but this is just another piece. It's a pretty exciting time.”
Arrieta is one of four free agents signed by the Phillies this winter, along with Carlos Santana and relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. Arrieta and Hunter were teammates in Baltimore and remain close friends. Hunter spent the winter trying to convince his pal to sign with the Phillies.
“I was coming hard in the paint, man,” Hunter said with a laugh.
On Sunday, Arrieta called Hunter (via FaceTime) and told him he’d reached agreement with the Phillies.
“He’s a Cy Young winner and a great clubhouse guy," Hunter said.
Can his addition turn the Phillies into contenders?
“The team could have made a run without him,” Hunter said. “You never know in baseball. I don’t want to put that burden or weight on one person and say that guy is going to transform an entire organization, but if you asked him if there’s anybody that could do it, it’d be him. He’s a confident guy and you have to be at the level he’s pitched at the last few years. You have to walk around with that swag and I think it’s going to take a lot of pressure off a lot of people having him here.”
Hunter was crowned champion of the team’s clubhouse ping-pong tournament last week. Will he give his new teammate a shot at the title?
“He can step in line like everybody else,” Hunter said. “Back of the bus, kid.”