Even with Another Big Arbitration Raise, Jake Arrieta’s Final Contract Year Will Be a Good Value

Members of the Cubs brass will soon sit down across the table from Jake Arrieta and Scott Boras to discuss an arbitration raise and perhaps even an extension. I like to envision that process including the two groups exchanging envelopes — the really good kind that have real heft to them, maybe even sealed with wax — and then huddling separately while discussing the figures contained therein with hushed tones. The room is perfectly lit with an ambient glow, none of the harsh and unforgiving glare of fluorescent bulbs or the flickering and untrustworthy softness of candles. This is all, of course, at the behest of the calculating man flanking the pitcher.

While I’m sure the reality of the situation is far less contrived, the fact remains that the Cubs have Arrieta under team control for one more season and they need to arrive at a salary figure commensurate with his service time and performance. There’s also the matter of a potential extension, but we’re going to dispense with that for the time being. If you rewind a few words, you’ll find a link that will carry you back in time to something I wrote on that exact topic. It’s quite solid, if I do say so myself. Though the various points of negotiation aren’t mutually exclusive, the arbitration talks are more pressing and the only ones that really need to be concluded posthaste.

In his last time through the arbitration process, Arrieta’s Cy Young season earned him a record $7.1 million raise over the $3.6 million he was paid in 2015 (that’s $10.7 total, tops among second-year arb pitchers for the math-challenged among you). His salary in that out-of-this-world campaign made for some absolutely insane value to the Cubs, even more than they got from him during an excellent 2014 for which they paid Arrieta only half a million. And even if the robust righty remains fixed in an earthly orbit throughout the coming year, the $16.8 million MLB Trade rumors has projected would be on par with what the Tigers are set to pay Anibal Sanchez.

Any of you still remember how the Cubs’ failure to land Sanchez resulted in the signing of Edwin Jackson? And how more than one person attempted in vain to dig and pry at that flaw (which was actually pretty defensible at the time) in an attempt to undermine the credibility of Epstein and Co.? Oh well, sands through the hourglass and water under a bridge and whatnot.

As MLBTR’s Matt Swartz points out in a recent piece, a $6.1 million bump for Arrieta would represent the second-highest increase for a third-year arb pitcher (Max Scherzer got $8.8 million more after his Cy Young in 2013). Interestingly enough, that spot is currently occupied by Carlos Zambrano, who jumped from $6.5 to $12.4 million in 2007. Next on the list is Jeff Samardzija, who earned an additional $4.46 million in 2015. That was post-Cubs, but the common thread is fun. In related news, my idea of fun is perhaps a bit skewed.

In that same piece I just referenced, Swartz goes on to note that Arrieta is unlikely to get the entirety of that projected increase, instead settling for something that puts him closer to a $16 million total. So now we’re talking about John Lackey as a salary comp. Not bad to pay a top-10 talent at a level that doesn’t even come close to cracking the top 20, huh? Even if he pitches to career averages that are skewed by his time in Baltimore, Arrieta will be well worth what he’ll make this coming season.

When it comes to the value he’ll provide in 2018 and beyond, when he wants to be paid like Scherzer and the rest of the upper echelon, that’s an entirely different story. For now, though, the Cubs only need to worry about what Arrieta can do for them in the defense of their World Series title.

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