Arrieta, Cubs Divided on Early Extension Talks

Monday night, Jon Heyman reported the Chicago Cubs and Jake Arrieta began discussions over a contract extension. With the team’s control of Arrieta ending after the 2017 regular season, a mega-deal between the Cubs and the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner has, while inessential at this point, become an elephant in the room since the start of the offseason.

Heyman notes the talks ended “pretty quickly,” as Arrieta is looking for a seven-year commitment similar to the contracts of other “Cy Young types” like Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and David Price.

Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young campaign — in which he went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP and 4.92 strikeout-to-walk rate in 229 innings — stands as one of the most dominant regular season pitching performances in recent memory. His second half was historic — opponents only hit him at an outrageous .148/.204/.205 clip — and while the 97-win Cubs were impressive on all fronts, Arrieta steered the ship.

The signs indicate this was no fluke. In 2014 Arrieta posted a 2.53 ERA and 2.26 FIP in 156 innings, while logging a 4.07 strikeout-to-walk rate and finishing ninth in the NL Cy Young race. Obviously, whatever voodoo Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio performed on Arrieta has been remarkably effective, as the sample size of Arrieta’s performance has grown significantly without diminishing.

It’s easy to impulsively say “pay the man!” in this scenario, especially if you’re a Cubs fan. Not since Greg Maddux’s first Cubs tenure have the Cubs possessed an ace that can dominate with such impressive consistency. And the more cynical fan who remembers losing Maddux after 1992 might not want to repeat history.

But there’s one caveat to the whole thing: on Sunday, Arrieta turned 30. If the Cubs immediately inked Arrieta to a seven-year contract, they’re committing to him until his age-37 season, at least. That’s proven to be a risky contract for an everyday outfielder, let alone a starting pitcher that’s expected to hurl 200 innings of Cy Young-caliber stuff year-in and year-out.

And you might be thinking, “Well, the Cubs committed to Jon Lester until he’s 36.” That’s true, and the front office knew the potential risk of doing so. It would be shocking if the one-two punch of Arrieta and Lester is as effective as it is now when they’re 34 and 36, respectively. It’s not impossible, but it’s also not the risk the Cubs seem willing to fathom at this moment in time.

Which is fine. With two more years of control, the Cubs have absolutely no immediate incentive to signing him right now. I don’t blame Arrieta whatsoever for wanting to get his payday, but I also don’t see the lack of a contract affecting him negatively in 2016. Sure, if he puts up another Cy Young season in 2016, restlessness could set in and kick negotiations into overdrive next offseason. But that’s such a long ways away.

Heyman concluded his series of tweets last night by saying the Cubs people “love” Arrieta and will probably try again. As they should; Jake Arrieta proved in 2015 he’s a special kind of pitcher that can take the Cubs to great things, and the Cubs know that. With two years until Arrieta hits free agency, there’s very little urgency for either side to get this deal done today.

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