Under normal circumstances, pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training would pretty much signal the end of the offseason’s big free-agent signings. This year, however, has been marked by many notable names going unsigned, which has made the hot stove remarkably cold compared to previous offseasons.
One advantage of this situation is that it gives teams like the Phillies a chance to swoop in and still make a big deal before the season officially begins. The Phils may be prepared to go forward with the players that are currently on their roster, but one name that could really provide the team with a sorely needed upgrade is Jake Arrieta.
The 2015 Cy Young winner is arguably the biggest name still left on the free-agent market and easily the top starting pitcher available. While he hasn’t quite been able to fully repeat his fantastic 2015 season, he’s still been one of the top performing pitchers in the game since going to the Chicago Cubs in 2013. During his four-and-a-half seasons in Chicago, he has pitched to a 2.73 ERA, plus 793 strikeouts and two no-hitters. Simply put, Arrieta reinvented himself from a relatively forgettable pitcher in Baltimore to a star in Chicago.
Arrieta was a huge part of the team that brought the Cubs its first World Series victory in over 100 years, but after the team’s recent signing of Yu Darvish, it seems highly unlikely that he’ll be returning to the North Side of Chicago. That’s where the Phillies come in.
There is a fair amount of potential when it comes to starters like Ben Lively and Jake Thompson, but the Phillies’ starting rotation is largely unproven and is especially shaky when Aaron Nola is removed from the equation. Maybe some of the other young starters could prove themselves in 2018 like Nola has, but it would do the team a lot of good to get somebody proven that can still help them in the long run.
At first glance, Arrieta’s declining numbers over the past two years may be a cause for concern, but there’s more to those numbers than what’s on the surface. In 2016, it was only natural that he came a bit back down to earth after posting 22 wins and a 1.76 ERA in his Cy Young season. Last year, he rebounded in the second half, with a 2.28 ERA after the All-Star Game, but his efforts were cut short by a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a few weeks in September. One note of caution: Arrieta saw a reduced ground ball rate and increased home run rate in 2017, but that’s slightly elevated thanks to 10 bad innings during his injury-plagued September. So if Arrieta were to become a Phillie, it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to replicate his 2015 season, but he’s proven that he is still be a reliable, all-star caliber pitcher that would be a great fit at the top of the Phils’ rotation.
Money wouldn’t even be a big concern for the Phillies, since they have plenty of space on their payroll for the foreseeable future. Carlos Santana is the only player on the roster set to make more than $10 million a year in any of the next three seasons, so the Phils could conceivably sign Arrieta to a long-term deal and still have money on the books to sign another superstar like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, assuming they both hit the open market.
At the end of the day, a Phillies rotation with Arrieta is simply set up to succeed at a much higher level than what the team has now. Nola is currently facing the prospect of potentially having to put the entire rotation on his back, but with a veteran who can still pitch like a superstar joining him at the top, it would take a lot of unnecessary pressure off of him. Nola is still young and shouldn’t have to worry about carrying the starters. It would be far better to his development to instead just focus on being part of potentially one of the best one-two pitching duos in baseball.
Of course, the question of how to entice Arrieta into joining the team with the third-worst record in baseball last year still remains (beyond having Nick Williams continue to talk up the Phillies in their regular workouts). If the Phils are going to sign Arrieta, they need to sell him on the fact that he’ll want to be around when the team gets competitive again, but that they need his help to get there. With all the young talent the Phils have both at the major league level and in the farm system, it’s not that hard to picture them being back in the playoff hunt after this upcoming season, and if Matt Klentak can convince Arrieta that the (hopefully) last stages of the rebuilding process are solid, we could be looking at a beautiful match.
With this unprecedented lull in free agency, it’s hard to tell when the dominoes will finally start to fall and the rest of the big names will finally sign. There are a number of other solid starters available that could help to bolster the Phils’ rotation, but given their needs and the amount of money they have available, it’s hard to find a better fit for this team than Jake Arrieta. Now make it happen, Phillies.