“There’s an open dialogue there. I think we will have talks (about an extension),” Jake Arrieta told the assembled media at Sloan Park Wednesday. “But it’s not my No. 1 priority. I just wanted to focus on my health and coming into camp as well rested and in as good of shape as I possibly can. That’s the position I’m in.”
To be honest, there’s not much new here when we’re looking at the face value of the words. After all, we’ve been hearing pretty much the same thing from Arrieta since questions about his long-term future with the Cubs really came to the forefront last winter. It seems, however, as though his rhetoric of late has been tinged with more resignation than in the past.
“If we have those conversations we’ll sit down and hash some things out and see if we can get something worked out. If it happens, great. If not, I’ll continue to move forward and take it day by day and focus on being as good as I can.”
This is that one-foot-out-the-door mentality I wrote about last month, the sense that his departure is a foregone conclusion. Despite hope to the contrary, it doesn’t sound like Arrieta is willing to give the Cubs any kind of loyalty discount. While acknowledging that he owes a lot to the club, the former Cy Young winner doubled down on the pragmatic approach he’s taking with his situation.
“I don’t want to see that time come to an end, my time as a Cub. But unfortunately the business side of the game shows its head every once in a while. But I still think there’s an opportunity and chance that we can have good conversations as far as an extension’s concerned and see if we can get something worked out.”
To translate that into a more familiar trope, Arrieta is basically saying “I think we should see other people. But you’re really cool and I totally still want to be friends.”
This feels, at least from my outside perspective, like a protracted game of chicken. Arrieta doesn’t want to miss out on the riches of free agency, the Cubs don’t want to pay him commensurate with what other aces have gotten in the last couple years. That said, the pitcher’s performance this season could precipitate a big swing either toward or away from an amenable middle ground.
Early struggles would provide the Cubs more leverage and might have Arrieta and his agent, the irascible and rapacious Scott Boras, rethinking their previous reluctance to negotiate mid-season. A hot start, on the other hand, would pretty much seal the deal when it comes to those demands of landing a monster contract. Either way, I’ll go ahead and say that if something isn’t done by May, it’s not getting done at all.
If I’m being honest, that’s little more than a way to keep alive a hope that’s hooked up to a respirator and feeding tube at this point. By which I mean the moribund hope that Arrieta returns to the Cubs on an incentive- and vesting/option-laden deal that makes sense for the team.
The bright side of all this is that a great performance from Arrieta this season means that the Cubs benefit from it at a great value and can then avoid tethering themselves to a huge contract for an aging starter.