Spring training is underway, but there is still one free agent pitcher who could make a difference for the acquiring team: right-handed starter Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, won the 2015 Cy Young Award and trails only two National League pitchers, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, in wins above replacement over the past three seasons. His 2.71 ERA since 2015 is second best in the NL over that span. Last season he went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 30 starts last season for the Cubs, striking out 163 batters and walking 55 in 168 1/3 innings pitched.
His repertoire features two fastballs — a four-seam that complements his sinker — plus a change-up, slider and curve. Unfortunately, he lost almost 2 mph on both his fastballs last year and saw his swinging strike rate on those pitches drop from 8.9 percent in 2016 to 6.3 percent in 2017, calling into question just how much he has left in the tank for upcoming seasons. That could be a key factor as to why he remains unsigned.
But his potential is still tantalizing and the Philadelphia Phillies have reportedly been inquiring about his services, with Todd Zolecki of MLB.com writing “the Phillies would consider a three-year contract for Arrieta.” Philadelphia General Manager Matt Klentak, however, cautions against making too big a commitment to an aging pitcher like Arrieta.
“We’ve gone through this rebuild, we’ve acknowledged that it was going to be painful for a few years,” Klentak told Zolecki. “It has been. We’re not going to do anything to compromise the future of that. We’re going to continue to do this right. We’re competitive as anybody else is, but we’re not going to radically change our valuation on a potential acquisition based on emotion. That’s not something we’re going to do.”
Klentak would be well advised to stick to that plan, because it’s unlikely Arrieta would make much of a difference in Philly’s fortunes. At least not next season. According to 2018 projections compiled by FanGraphs, Philadelphia is expected to have the 18th-best pitching staff in the majors next season (14.8 projected wins above replacement), and adding Arrieta, estimated to be worth 2.8 fWAR next season, would move them up to 12th, making Arrieta the second-best pitcher on the squad after Aaron Nola (4.3 projected fWAR in 2018) but still leaving the team with little added value.
|Projected 2018 stats|
The Phillies are expected to finish third in the NL East with a 74-88 record, which, perhaps gets them 76 or even 80 wins with Arrieta. At the higher end of that range, Philadelphia would still be one win behind the New York Mets and 10 wins behind the Nationals in the division. In other words, it would take more than Arrieta to get this Philadelphia team into contention sooner than expected.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins have also expressed interest in Arrieta, but they are at the mercy of the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, respectively, each figuring to dominate the Central divisions all season long.
The best spot for Arrieta that would carry the most impact for a team might be Washington. The Nationals’ starting rotation features Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez at the top with Tanner Roark and A.J. Cole filling in the fourth and fifth spots. Arrieta, at this stage of his career, would be a significant upgrade over Cole (0.5 projected fWAR in 2018), boosting Washington’s total projected fWAR to 47.1, seventh best in the majors and just a few ticks behind the Boston Red Sox (47.8), who are one spot ahead.
|2018 projected stats||ERA||K/9||BB/9||fWAR|
The biggest stumbling block will likely be price. Arrieta, a Scott Boras client, is reportedly looking for a deal on par to the six-year, $126 million deal the Cubs recently extending Yu Darvish, who, ironically, replaces Arrieta on the roster. That’s a big price to pay for a 30-something starter whose five-year value is in the neighborhood of $90 million.