Rumor Check: Jake Arrieta

Earlier this week there was a report from CBS Chicago’s Bruce Levine that the St. Louis Cardinals are one of the two teams most interested, along with the Chicago Cubs, in signing free agent RHP Jake Arrieta.

On the surface, it sounds like a good move. I’ve been arguing for a year that the Cardinals have a big hole in their 2018 rotation and how they will fill innings. But the Cubs are also reported to be willing to offer a 4 year, $110 million deal to Arrieta to bring him back to the Windy City, and that’s more than I can stomach for him.

Arrieta, 31, is coming off a year where he posted a 3.53 ERA and 4.16 FIP in 168.1 innings over 30 starts for the Cubs last season. It was his worst season since joining the Cubs following a trade from the Orioles during the 2013 season. He did miss some time in September with a groin injury.

He hits free agency after posting a 2.73 ERA and 3.16 FIP over 191 starts for the Cubs over four and a half seasons.

Arrieta’s turnaround upon arrival in Chicago is well storied. A 2.53 ERA in 25 starts in 2014 and then a 1.77 ERA in 33 starts in 2015. But since then, Arrieta has seen his hit rate, home run, and walk rate jump while seeing a decline in his strikeout rate.

The question is whether this is just him coming back to earth or whether it’s decline. If it is him just coming back to earth, will he stop before he becomes the guy who posted a 5.46 ERA in 63 starts for the Orioles over three and a half years.

In my opinion, there are four top free agent pitchers in this year’s class. Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb along with Arrieta. Arrieta’s advantage is that he hasn’t had Tommy John in the last three years. But all still have red flags.

Darvish, 31, struggled last year, his first full season post-Tommy John surgery. He is now three years removed and his numbers post-TJ are nowhere near his numbers before it. The same goes for Cobb and Lynn, both 30.

If I’m honest, the outlook on any of the four do not enthuse me.

However, I’ve been onboard the Lance Lynn reunion train for a year now and I still see him as the best of this group of four. I enjoy seeing people who point out Lynn’s peripherals while expressing support for signing one of these other three pitchers, all of whom exhibit the same issues to varying extents. I’ve dug into Lynn’s peripherals and they don’t scare me because of how everything is interconnected and what I believe is the root cause, but this is an article on Jake Arrieta.

The question on Arrieta is who you’re going to get. The Arrieta we saw in 2016 (3.10 ERA, 197.1 innings) is probably worth $27.5 million. The Arrieta we saw in 2017 (3.53 ERA, 168.1 innings) is not. And I think it’s far more likely we see something closer to the 2017 version for most of the next four years.

I will say that four years is far more attractive to me than the six years that his agent Scott Boras is believed to be looking for. And in that regard, I think I can convince myself that such a deal would be acceptable. You get out from underneath it before it becomes too much of an issue with Arrieta getting old.

But, I still see the best option for another starting pitcher to be Tampa’s Chris Archer. He is clearly the best starting pitcher that could find himself available and he is young and on a very nice contract. Accordingly, he will cost a lot of prospects, which is why he hasn’t moved yet. Not while guys like Arrieta and Darvish are still free agents.