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Cubs ace Jake Arrieta's value measured in dollars and hope

After Jake Arrieta shaved off his 2015 Cy Young-winning beard, his beard for the new season already has started to come back strong.

Enjoy the beard while you can.

The biggest false narrative of the Cubs’ off-season was the idea that a long-term contract extension was a realistic possibility this winter for Jake Arrieta – “the best pitcher on the planet,” as broadcaster Jim Deshaies described him to a group of grade-schoolers on Thursday.

If anything, the odds went from slim to none on Dec. 4, when news broke of Zack Greinke’s six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks – that largest average annual value in major league history.

That’s Greinke, as in the guy who finished second to Arrieta in the National League Cy Young race in 2015.

“As a guy who’s been around for a little bit you see deals being signed, you know what type of money’s out there,” Arrieta said during a Cubs Caravan stop Thursday on the eve of Cubs Convention. “You know what the market is.

“That doesn’t mean things won’t happen,” said the second-year arbitration-eligible pitcher, adding: “I’m going to be a Cub for the next two seasons, which I’m very excited about. And if it goes longer than that, then that’ll be nice, too.”

If that were a tweet it would come with the hashtag #ScottBoras – Arrieta’s agent.

Arrieta, whose 22-6, 1.77-ERA breakout season might have been the biggest factor in the Cubs’ 97-win rise in 2015, is also the biggest reason the Cubs are considered favorites in the National League Central this year – favorites to win the World Series, according to some breathless projections.

And his value – both in terms of pitching market and to the Cubs’ championship hopes – is the top reason the Cubs have spent more money and creativity this winter to build a roster to maximize the two-year window they’re assured of controlling the dominant right-hander’s services.

“It’s hard to argue that the next two years represent a great chance to sort of amass maybe the most talent onto a single roster that we can,” team president Theo Epstein said in November – before adding free agents John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

“It’s hard to look at those three guys right there and feel like we’re not a favorite,” said Arrieta – whose 9.0 wins above replacement ranked second among Cubs’ pitchers only to Greg Maddux (1992) in the last 50 years.

So what’s he worth?

Maybe more than Greinke or last year’s $210 million free agent, Max Scherzer – another Boras client the agent already has compared to Arrieta.

Probably more today than at any other point in his career if he were on the free agent market – or in long-term contract talks.

Definitely another shot or two for the Cubs at the biggest championship left to win in American professional sports.

If anything, it makes less sense for the Cubs to dive into the deep end on Arrieta extension talks at this high point in his value than it does for Arrieta.

Arrieta never pitched even 177 innings in a professional season before surging to 248 2/3 innings last year, including three postseason starts – two of which admittedly impacted by fatigue.

“It is a significant jump, and regardless of how you prepare and how good a shape you’re in, there’s certain things that are difficult to prepare for,” he said. “But having that workload already under my belt, I think moving forward I’m going to be very capable of handling that.”

It was this week last year that Arrieta came to terms on a $3.63 million deal in his first winter of arbitration eligibility. He should at least come close to tripling that this year – with estimates ranging from just over $10 million to about $11 million, based on service time and historical comparisons.

Players and clubs exchange arbitration figures Friday.

“Same kind of situation [as last year],” Arrieta said. “It seems more positive than last year; I feel like that’s kind of a given. I don’t think either side wants it to draw out. Just get it one and let’s not even have to talk about it anymore.”

At least until it comes up again in the next year, certainly within the next 21 months.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question,” Arrieta said of an eventual multiyear deal. “I don’t know if it’s in the question either.”