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Extension talks with Cubs ace Jake Arrieta tabled

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs and Jake Arrieta will likely open the season without a multi-year contract extension for the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, but it’s not for lack of face time between the pitcher and the team’s top baseball executive.

“Theo [Epstein] and I talked not so recently, and then we had a conversation a little bit more recently,” said Arrieta, who avoided arbitration with a one-year agreement for $10.7 million earlier this month before resuming conversations about a potential longer-term deal.

“I think we’re kind of on the same page with not wanting to have a ton of conversation as the season gets near because the 24 guys in here are more important than my contract,” Arrieta said. “I think they kind of know the ballpark of where it needs to be.

“Whether it happens or not we’ll see. And I think both sides don’t want to deal with much of this during the season.”

Team president Epstein downplayed the newsworthiness of the talks – which sources say weren’t expected by the team to result in an agreement – and characterized those conversations since being together in Arizona as more about broad concepts than substantive details.

“Maybe the talks will provide a foundation for something to get done down the road,” Epstein said. “The last thing he wants or we would want is to create any type of distraction. There will be quiet moments out of the competitive spotlight in the future where it’ll make sense to talk again. But it’s certainly not something that’s going on now.”

As Arrieta closed in on a 22-6 season that included a 1.77 ERA, his agent, Scott Boras, compared him to another client: Max Scherzer, who got a then-record seven-year, $210 million from the Washington Nationals. Boras emphasized relatively low miles and high durability expectations for Arrieta.

Two days later, Arrieta threw a no-hitter.

“We didn’t get anything done,” Epstein said of talks that were more substantive during the winter. “But I thought it was a great exchange of ideas and perspective, and the relationship between Jake and the organization couldn’t be better as far as I’m concerned.”

Arrieta, who is eligible to become a free agent after next season, approached his representatives last season, urging them to get a multi-year deal done because of his strong desire to stay in Chicago, where his career began to thrive, a source close to Arrieta said.

He’s 36-13 with a 2.26 ERA in 67 starts since joining the Cubs. He was 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts) for Baltimore before that.

“There’s a small window that you have as a professional athlete, and obviously you want to try to capitalize on that,” said Arrieta, who makes his first start of the spring on Wednesday. “Where I am in my career financially, whether I signed an extension or not, we’re still going to be able to live a good life. Money can only make you so happy. And we’re extremely happy where we’re at. I love my teammates, love Chicago. So those are more important than a contract extension for me.”

Arrieta’s value will almost certainly never be higher than it is right now. Some of the greatest pitchers in history have not produced the kind of dominance he did much of last year (16-1, 0.86 ERA, in his final 20 starts). And he turned 30 on Sunday.

The length of the contract he’s seeking is said to be the biggest obstacle to clear between the sides.

One source with knowledge of the team’s position in negotiations questioned whether the front office has the ability to make another nine-figure contract fit projected budgets after signing Jon Lester (six years, $155 million) and Jason Heyward (eight years, $184 million) the past two offseasons.

“The money’s not on my mind at all,” Arrieta said. “If it comes up, if the front office wants to talk, then I’m here. We can sit down again and try to work something out.

“But it’s got to be something worth signing. I think Theo knows that. I think that’s why we haven’t had a ton of conversations about it.”

Said Epstein: “Obviously, Jake’s going to be a Cub for the next two seasons at a minimum; we hope longer than that. That provides a lot of time to get something done.”