MESA, Ariz. — Nobody in the Cubs’ clubhouse was closer to Jake Arrieta than Texas neighbor Tommy La Stella the last three years — so close that Arrieta still carries some of La Stella with him wherever he goes, even four months after his last pitch for the Cubs.
OK, most of what he carries from La Stella is a tattoo on his butt — Coastal Carolina, La Stella’s alma mater — from a bet he lost.
But suffice it to say, La Stella knows better than most what the Cubs lost in Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, as a player and teammate when they moved on from him and signed Yu Darvish to replace him. La Stella also knows the kind of motivation that Arietta — baseball’s best remaining unsigned free-agent pitcher — will take into his next job once he signs.
“He’s never lacking in motivation,” La Stella said Friday. “He always goes out there and pitches with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. I think that’s what makes him so good and so competitive. I’m sure he’ll take a little bit of that out there, for sure.”
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At least six teams have shown interest in Arrieta, including the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals, according to sources.
Jon Lester, who signed a big free-agent deal with the Cubs three years ago, sympathizes with Arrieta and the slew of other top free agents who remain unsigned with spring training underway.
“It’s crazy,” Lester said. “I kind of thought once February hit, it would be just kind of a mass signing. I thought guys would sign in that first week and we really wouldn’t talk about it anymore. I can only imagine what those guys are going through, probably emotionally and physically, too. We’re talking about guys that need to be playing. It’s alarming.”
Given the leadership and work ethic that La Stella says Arrieta brings — beyond his big-game reputation as a pitcher — does he think the Cubs might have miscalculated?
“I don’t think there’s any miscalculation in their game, to be honest,” La Stella said of Theo Epstein’s front office. “I think they’re very calculated with everything. Anytime you’re going to miss out on something, you stand to gain somewhere else. I think that’s kind of the situation that it was.”
Ultimately, La Stella believes his pal will come out of the slowest free-agent market in history and find a good landing spot.
“It’s strange, obviously,” La Stella said. “I don’t think anybody really knows what to make of it. He’ll land somewhere, obviously, and it’ll be the right fit because that’s just the way these things go. He’s a great competitor and a great player, so it’s tough to imagine him falling into a situation that doesn’t line up.”
Just so long as it’s in the other league?
“No,” La Stella said. “I want to face him. And hopefully take him deep.”
Sounds like a recipe for another butt tattoo.
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