With Four Days Left Before Arbitration Hearing, Arrieta and Cubs Still Optimistic About Deal

No matter how this situation plays out, Jake Arrieta is going to get a sizable raise over the pittance he was paid last season. Yes, I understand that everyone reading this would probably trade a kidney and a couple fingers for $3.63 million, but that’s peanuts relative to Arrieta’s value in a market in which Mike Leake is worth $16 million. Theo Epstein has never had an arbitration case reach the final hearing stage, so it’s likely we get some record-setting finality by the end of the weekend.

David Price currently holds the marks for both largest second-year arbitration salary ($10.1 million) and largest arb raise ($5.8 million) when he was pitching for the Rays in 2013. Now Arrieta looks to raze those totals with a payday that should land somewhere in the $10.5 million neighborhood, nearly $7 million more than last year. Not too shabby. Bruce Levine has reported that such a settlement is likely, even after the Cubs offered only $7.5 million against their pitcher’s counter of $13 million.

That in and of itself isn’t really news, as I think a lot of us have been expecting it since the proposed salary figures were announced just before Cubs Convention a few weeks back. I had written at the time and discussed with many in attendance at the event that the two sides would probably end up splitting the difference and moving forward. But I’m wondering whether Scott Boras might use this weekend and the ironclad strength of Arrieta’s arbitration case as leverage for a long-term deal.

At first blush, that might seem an odd strategy. After all, even if this goes to the arbitrator the Cubs will only be on the hook for $13 million, still a tremendous bargain for a pitcher of Arrieta’s caliber. Were they to extend him, however, the payout could be nearly twice that. Boras might want to look at an extension now because his client’s value is incredibly high, perhaps at its peak, and a long-term deal would mean buying out two arb years. Then again, it would also mean keeping Arrieta out of free agency until his late 30’s.

I suppose there’s also the possibility that Boras could play Epstein’s ego and track record against him, pushing the Cubs exec to really put his reputation for avoiding the arbitrator’s office on the line. That doesn’t seem like an incredibly productive tactic, though I wouldn’t put it past Boras to use it as part of a bigger scheme. In the end, I think the conversations had this weekend will be as much about setting up next year’s negotiations as they are determining Arrieta’s 2016 figure.

Should the ace put up another great season in which he’s both effective and durable, the Cubs may have little choice but to extend him or risk losing him in free agency. I’ve said all along that I don’t think they’re ready to go all-in on a guy coming off such an insane campaign, particularly when part of the insanity included Arrieta’s obliteration of his previous career high for innings pitched. It only makes sense to let the coming season play out and revisit an extension next winter.

For his part, Arrieta has said that he loves Chicago and his teammates and that he’d love to be with the Cubs beyond the two years he’s guaranteed. I think the feeling is probably mutual, but there’s nothing urgent at this point. Stay tuned for more, but expect this to get hammered out by Monday.

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