After all the claims by the St. Louis Cardinals front office that the team is satisfied with its aging, injury-prone and otherwise questionable starting rotation, could it be that the club is just playing possum with plans to steal its bitter rival’s ace?
That’s what the CBS Chicago would have us believe.
According to the station, it is the Redbirds who have been the most aggressive suitors in trying to steal away Chicago Cubs free agent Jake Arrieta. The Cubs apparently had no interest in bringing back the 32-year-old hurler after his contract expired — at least, it seems, not until the Redbirds got involved in the bidding.
Chicago made no substantial effort to try to prevent Arrieta from hitting the open market. Then the Cubs openly flirted with former Tampa Bay Rays starter Alex Cobb and longtime Rangers ace Yu Darvish while doing little or nothing to convince Arrieta to come back.
Arrieta could command $110 million over four years, according to reports. It’s a princely sum. However, it certainly comes with less commitment than the mammoth contracts David Price, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw have inked in recent years because the Cubs free agent is a little bit older than those other players were when they hit the open market.
While he wasn’t as dominant in 2017 as he’s been in recent years, that doesn’t mean that Arrieta wasn’t effective. If he wasn’t consistently great, he was, at the very least, extremely good. Arrieta allowed 150 hits over 168 innings, struck out three times as many batters as he walked and had a respectable 3.53 ERA. I’d take four seasons just like Arrieta’s 2017, thank you very much.
While some Cardinals fans have expressed feelings that they don’t want a former Cubs hurler in the St. Louis mix, stealing away Arrieta could give the Birds an edge in competition against Chicago. It’s always good to have that little bit of additional motivation that comes from a player who wants to prove that his old old employer erred in letting him go. Beyond that, the Cardinals would benefit from adding players who know what it takes to win it all — while continuing to subtract them from Chicago. Let’s not forget that Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina will be the only players left from the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals after Lance Lynn departs.
While St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez has made huge strides in becoming an elite hurler, I still believe he could learn a thing or two from a crafty veteran like Arrieta. What could up-and-coming pitching prospects like Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes learn from Arrieta? The latter could ease back into mix after missing a year of Tommy John surgery, working in the bullpen in the upcoming season instead of being counted on to be a starter. It takes more than one dominant pitcher to navigate the regular season and then make a push when it comes to playoff time. I’d love to see St. Louis add a bat and some bullpen help. But having a shutdown starter might be too good to pass up.
All of that being said, it might be tough to get Arrieta at a price the Birds are willing to pay. Chicago will be motivated to steer Arrieta away from its rival and will likely drive up the price to do so — or at least make it hurt for the Cardinals to pick him up. While I would be OK with the four-year contract for $110 million, I’d imagine St. Louis would have to significantly beat the amount the Cubs offer to get the player to switch teams. Let’s face it, right now he’s an adored star of fans who were starved for a title over the course of 108 years. He’d go from angel to devil in the Windy City if Arrieta suddenly showed up at Wrigley Field wearing the Birds on the Bat.
I could see four years. But if the Cardinals would have to include a fifth year and another $27.5 million to convince Arrieta to defect, I think that’s too far to stretch. He’d be the same age Wainwright is now by the time that contract was up. While Arrieta has had a lot fewer health issues than Waino, he’s still going to have a lot of miles on the odometer before the deal is through.