Will ripple effect of Stephen Strasburg signing reach Cubs?

SHARE Will ripple effect of Stephen Strasburg signing reach Cubs?

Jake Arrieta pitches against Stephen Strasburg’s Washington Nationals on Sunday.

Cubs president Theo Epstein was asked before Tuesday’s game whether the club was close to making a contract extension announcement.

“Nope,” he said. “Not with any of our players, nor with myself. Status quo.”

The question obviously was directed at what has become the routine, weekly “status quo” update on extension talks between Cubs ownership and the club’s lame-duck baseball boss.

The fact Epstein included players in his answer only offered a reminder of some of the work ahead of his front office to extend this competitive window, if not a reminder of how Stephen Strasburg’s $175 million extension with the Nationals this week might impact the Cubs.

Epstein downplayed the deal that not only took the projected top pitcher off next winter’s free agent market, but might also have relevance to the club’s efforts over the next 18 months to extend Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta’s contract.

Strasburg’s signing leaves San Diego’s Andrew Cashner and Boston’s Clay Buchholz at the top of the next free agent class.

“We pay attention to everything that goes on in the game, but it doesn’t impact us too much,” Epstein said. “Obviously, it will impact markets, and we have to operate in markets, but it is what it is.”

The Cubs didn’t expect to be major players in next winter’s free agent market anyway after doing their heavy lifting last winter to cover two seasons of roster control over the entire starting rotation, more than half the bullpen and nearly every hitter.

They added $207 million worth of free agent starting pitchers to their staff over the past two winters.

They’re already sizing up the potential puzzle pieces for rosters beyond 2017, in particular pitching pieces.

“We’ve managed to put together really good pitching staffs last year and this year,” said Epstein of a Cubs staff that entered play Tuesday night with the best team ERA in the majors. “And that’s something that’s going to be important for us to continue to do in the future, and we spend a lot of time every day working on it, whether it’s assessing guys who are going to be free agents or assessing trade targets or figuring out how to get the best out of the guys that we have.”

Or to keep the best guys that they have.

Arrieta, whose agent, Scott Boras, also represents Strasburg, is a free agent after next season. And Boras has repeatedly drawn comparisons between Arrieta and another client, Max Scherzer, the former Cy Young winner who got a seven-year, $210 million free agent deal from the Nationals before last season.

It’s too soon to tell whether Strasburg’s seven-year $175 million extension will have an impact on Arrieta’s future with the Cubs. Boras almost always takes his top players to free agency, with Strasburg the first frontline client in four years (Jered Weaver and the Angels) to compel the agent to strike an extension with his team leading up to potential free agency.

Arrieta has said he wants to stay with the Cubs, and has said more than once, “[Boras] works for me.”

Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick of the Nats in 2009, talked Tuesday about the trust in the Nationals’ organization as a factor in pushing for an extension: “There were a lot of situations in the past that I think looking back upon it, they took great care of me, not only as a pitcher but as a person.”

Certainly, Arrieta is not a homegrown Cub and hasn’t had the medical needs Strasburg has endured. But his career renaissance since the 2013 trade from Baltimore is no coincidence, and he has repeatedly talked about his comfort with pitching coach Chris Bosio and the team culture.

The Cubs even included a Pilates room for him with the new clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

On the other hand, Arrieta also does not seem in a rush to sign a deal on anybody else’s terms, already turned down an offer a few months ago when the Cubs wouldn’t approach the seven years he sought. and seems at peace with taking his chances on free agency.

“I don’t put a whole lot of time and effort into that because at the end of the day I’m going to be compensated well regardless,” Arrieta said.

Strasburg’s deal includes a pair of opt-out clauses after the third and fourth years of the deal, similar to the back-to-back opt-outs the Cubs gave Jason Heyward in his eight-year deal last winter.

“For me, the big thing was the flexibility of the contract,” Boras said Tuesday. “Stephen has a lot of security and the opportunity to stay or leave. It works out well for both parties.”

If Arrieta (6-0, 1.13) keeps pitching like he has over the past year or so, the Cubs might be compelled to get aggressive with an extension offer – whether that would mean big years or opt outs.

Especially if the need grows and the markets thin.

“It’s going to work itself out,” Arrieta said.

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