CLEARWATER, Fla. — The sight of nearly 10 Phillies players at his introductory news conference reminded Jake Arrieta of the time in 2012 when he attended a similar event for Adam Jones when they were both with the Orioles.
Jones was getting a six-year, $85.5 million extension, which
Arrieta saw as a worthy goal when his time came to get rewarded.
That arrived Tuesday as Arrieta secured a three-year, $75 million contract from the Phillies. How he got there, however, was far different from what he envisioned.
“If you had asked me where I expected to be at the start of the offseason, it wouldn’t be signing on [March 13],’’ Arrieta said, “but it’s exciting as hell to be here now.’’
The guaranteed sum of Arrieta’s deal, which is front-loaded and gives him the chance to opt out after two seasons, falls short of the nine-figure total projected for him, and it’s significantly below the six-year, $126 million deal Yu Darvish received to replace him in the Cubs’ rotation.
As so many other players found out this offseason, the market realities have changed dramatically with so many teams overhauling their rosters and the usual big spenders making every effort to stay under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold.
Or, in the words of Arrieta’s agent Scott Boras: “In a marketplace where you’ve got 30 boats in the blue lake of free agency and maybe as many as 12 are no longer fishing and the other five have determined that the gas tax is too great, you’re left with a free agent model that is noncompetitive.’’
Arrieta went 45-24 with a 2.71 ERA in his last three seasons with the Cubs and won the Cy Young Award in 2015. He drew enough interest to create some competition but not so much where he could dictate his price.
Boras realized they would have to choose between getting a high average annual value — Arrieta’s $25 million tops all contracts signed this offseason — or a larger total sum. They would not get both. The powerful agent did negotiate a creative deal that has the potential to grow to five years and $135 million with incentives.
Regardless, Arrieta had to
adjust his expectations, and he
acknowledged the offseason uncertainty was unsettling for him and his family.
“There were times when we were wondering where we were going to be, when it’s going to happen,’’ he said. “That’s just natural. You’re trying to figure out for your family where you’re going to live, who your teammates are going to be, what uniform you’re going to wear. But I don’t think I would change it for anything in the world.
“And a message I want to really send to, not only the players but to Philadelphia in general and the entire Phillies nation, is that what we’re going to do here is we’re going to promise a fight.’’
At 32, Arrieta is going from a club that played in the NLCS each of his last three years and won the 2016 World Series to a rebuilding franchise that has endured five consecutive losing seasons.
Arrieta will be relied on not only to deliver 200-plus quality innings, but also to guide a youthful rotation that ranked 10th in the NL with a 4.80 ERA last season. Beyond the knowledge accumulated over an eight-year career, Arrieta figures to instill in his staff mates some of the work ethic and meticulous preparation that made him one of the game’s top pitchers at one point.
“He’d definitely be a great guy to learn from, especially with so many young pitchers on this team,’’ said Aaron Nola, 24, who led the Phillies with 168 innings pitched in 2017. “He’s been in our shoes at some point in his career.’’
That career began with some rocky times in Baltimore, where he went 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA in three-and-a-half seasons, before Arrieta turned his fortunes around after being traded to the Cubs in July 2013.
The Cubs were going through a major revamping of their own at the time — they finished 66-96 that season, same as the Phillies last season — and three years later it paid off with their first championship since 1908.
Arrieta sees the Phillies as further along in the process.
“I feel like we’re not far away,’’ he said. “A rebuild doesn’t mean you can’t win now. I think that’s probably the same mindset the players in this organization all share, and I’m no different. I intend to come in here and win right away, even though we are technically in a rebuild.’’
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