For all the impressive starting pitching on both sides during the Cubs’ 5-2 victory over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night, the stars – and dollar signs – start coming out in earnest the next three games of this marquee series.
Consider all eyes on former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer of the Nationals Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field – including the eyes of the Cubs’ Cy Young winner.
“I watch him just because he’s one of the best,” Jake Arrieta said. “He threw two no-hitters last year, I think. Right?”
June 20 and Oct. 3, to be exact, with only 18 starts between them.
But, that’s nothing. Arrieta, who starts Sunday, had only half that many starts between his no-hitters, the most recent just two weeks ago in Cincinnati.
It’s no wonder that every time agent Scott Boras is asked about Jake Arrieta’s free agency future, the words “Max Scherzer” seem to be the first two out of his mouth.
Scherzer got the seven-year, $210 million deal that topped the free agent pitching class before last season (the class that also included $155 million lefty Jon Lester).
And his process looks like the template Boras is using for Arrieta – the backdrop against which Scherzer’s start against the team with the best record in baseball and Arrieta’s against the team with the second-best might be compared this weekend.
“It’s a start,” Arrieta (6-0 with a 0.84 ERA) said of Scherzer and the seven-year deal that was eclipsed by David Price and the Red Sox a few months ago ($217 million). “I think it’s maybe hard to compare me to a lot of guys, especially recently. I know the bar’s set high.”
Boras has equated Scherzer’s “low mileage” on his arm as a free agent to Arrieta’s and said they share similar workout and nutrition regimens. And just last month pointed out that “Every Cy Young Award winner I know gets a seven-year [free agent] contract.”
“Obviously, Scott has compared Max and I as far as contractually, but the number continues to rise every year,” said Arrieta, who’s on a historic run over his last 26 starts. “The next free agent gets a little bit more the next a little more, and so on and so forth. We’ll see. But it’s so far out of my thought process right now.
“If I continue to do what I’m doing, which I intend to do, the money’s going to be good.”
Scherzer was in a similar position with the Detroit Tigers in the two years leading to his then-record contract.
Like Arrieta during this past off-season and again during spring training, Scherzer turned down extension offers from the Tigers to avoid free agency.
The last one was for six years, $144 million, a sum that caused gasps across the baseball map when he turned it down in 2014.
“You just make a decision,” he said of that offer. “I had the things in front of me, injury risk factors and where I was at in my career. They appeared low. I just took care of the risk factor [mentally], and once I did that, I just said, `Hey, let’s go out there and compete and win,’ and that’s all that matters.”
That mental hurdle might be even lower for Arrieta, who seems as confident in his strength and durability as he is in his ability to shut down lineups these days.
And the Cubs weren’t going near the relative market numbers the Tigers did with Scherzer in recent talks, particularly in contract length.
Like Arrieta, Scherzer said he kept his focus on teammates and competing for a pennant when he was going through the process with the Tigers.
“If you just go out there and play to win the game, go out there with that mindset, everything takes care of itself, and it’s a beautiful thing,” Scherzer said. “Because everybody’s attention is on your free agent stuff, and the only thing you care about is winning. And when you win, everything falls right into place.”
The Cubs’ front office can’t project their ability to keep Arrieta off the free agent market at this point and spent the offseason bolstering this team – and structuring its near-term payrolls — to maximize the two-year window they’re assured of having him.
Arrieta, much like Scherzer with Detroit, enjoyed the team culture and teammates. Sources say Arrieta went so far as to urge his representatives to seek an extension last season.
In the end, Scherzer trusted Boras and wound up with a record contract, even though it meant leaving friends and a comfort zone.
“Yeah, the business side of the game can get ugly at times,” he said. “That’s how it is.”
Whether that’s how it ultimately plays out for the Cubs and Arrieta, the template is in place.
“If we’re talking financially, it’s going to work itself out,” Arrieta said. “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.”