In a different climate for free agents, Jake Arrieta would have been widely courted. Over the last four and a half seasons, he has won more than half his starts, with a 2.73 earned-run average, a Cy Young Award, two no-hitters and a World Series ring.
But Arrieta is 32 years old, and an industry increasingly steeped in analytics has recalibrated the value of veteran free agents. Many have waited until deep into spring training to find new teams, and been creative with the structure of their contracts. Arrieta reached a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, but the dollars and years could vary widely.
The Phillies did not announce the agreement, because Arrieta must first pass a physical. But a person with knowledge of its structure, who was granted anonymity because the contract is not yet official, said that Arrieta could be bound to the Phillies for as little as two years, or as many as five.
Arrieta will earn $30 million this season, $25 million in 2019 and $20 million in 2020, and can trigger an opt-out clause after 2019. But the Phillies can void the opt-out by guaranteeing two more years — 2021 and 2022 — with salaries of at least $20 million for each. With incentives, Arrieta’s total payout could reach $135 million for five years.
Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, negotiated similar deals this winter for Eric Hosmer with San Diego and J.D. Martinez with Boston; both contracts have higher salaries in the early years of the contract, and give the player at least one chance to opt out.
Boras still has one prominent free agent remaining — closer Greg Holland — after reaching one-year deals in recent days to bring Carlos Gonzalez back to Colorado and Mike Moustakas back to Kansas City, both at discounts.
Other former Cy Young Award winners in their 30s have landed far more lucrative deals than Arrieta in recent years, including David Price (seven years, $217 million with Boston) and Zack Greinke (six years, $206.5 million). But those contracts are widely viewed as excessive, and even as teams thrive financially, most are leery of making such commitments to players who may be declining.
The Phillies’ top baseball operations officials know Arrieta well, though not from his prime years. Andy MacPhail, the president of baseball operations, and Matt Klentak, the general manager, worked for Baltimore when Arrieta reached the majors in 2010. He pitched decently for the Orioles, if inconsistently, in his first two seasons.
MacPhail and Klentak left after the 2011 season, and Arrieta’s performance steadily fizzled. He never adjusted to the Orioles’ attempts at streamlining his across-the-body delivery, but blossomed after a trade to the Chicago Cubs in July 2013. The Cubs encouraged Arrieta to use his more natural motion, and by 2015 he was a star.
Arrieta won the Cy Young Award that season by going 22-6 with a 1.77 E.R.A., and he pitched the Cubs into the division series by shutting out Pittsburgh in the National League wild-card game. He had worked nearly 250 innings by the end of that postseason, and with better rest the next year, he won two World Series starts in helping the Cubs to a long-awaited title.
After a dreary first half last season, Arrieta had a 2.28 E.R.A. in 12 starts after the All-Star Game and earned the Cubs’ only victory in the N.L. Championship Series. But there were troubling signs: according to Fangraphs, his average fastball last season was 92.1 miles per hour, down from 94.6 m.p.h. in his Cy Young season.
Even so, Arrieta becomes the clear ace of the Phillies, who went 66-96 last year and have now gone six consecutive seasons without a winning record. But the Phillies acted early in free agency, signing first baseman Carlos Santana for three years and $60 million, and then signed the middle relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter to two-year contracts.
With only one other player signed past this season — outfielder Odubel Herrera — the Phillies had plenty of room in their budget for Arrieta but were willing to wait out the market to get him. Arrieta will front a rotation that also includes Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, among other candidates.
The Cubs found their replacement for Arrieta last month, signing Yu Darvish for six years and $126 million. The Cubs also signed starter Tyler Chatwood (three years, $38 million) this winter and traded last summer for Jose Quintana, giving them a mostly new rotation since the start of last season.
“One through five, a little bit better stuff overall; you might be able to say something like that,” Manager Joe Maddon said on Saturday, in Mesa, Ariz. “Although missing Jake is not easy, either.”
Published at Mon, 12 Mar 2018 01:15:18 +0000