Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Jake Arrieta is the perfect player at the perfect time for Phillies

Phillies sign free agent pitcher Jake Arrieta
In a move that was rumored for weeks, the Philadelphia Phillies won the race to sign the top free agent on the market this off-season.

That signing not only bolsters the starting pitching rotation immediately. It also signals that the club is clearly ready to move towards a return to winning baseball right now.

Jake Arrieta, who turned 32 years old exactly one week ago, has been reportedly signed to a three-year deal worth $75 million total dollars.

However, as Wayne G. McDonell Jr with Forbes wrote, the deal is more complex than that:
"... it appears as if Arrieta’s contract is front loaded and includes an opt out...2018salary is $30 million, but drops to $25 million in 2019...opt out clause apparently is an option at the end of the 2019 season with a 2020 salary set at $20 million...the Phillies have the option to void the opt out and establish a two-year contract extension that begins at $20 million per year. It also appears there are various performance incentives as well. In total, the contract has the potential of reaching $135 million."
Arrieta immediately becomes the #1 starting pitcher in the Phillies rotation, the true ace that the club has lacked since dealing away Cole Hamels at the 2015 trade deadline.

A veteran of eight big league seasons, Arrieta broke in with the Baltimore Orioles. He battled mechanical and health issues with the O's, and it wasn't until a 2013 trade to the Chicago Cubs that the right-hander truly began to blossom.

Arrieta finished 9th in the NL Cy Young Award voting during his first full season in Chicago. Then in 2015 he won the award, honored as the National League's top starting pitcher after going 22-6 with a minuscule 1.77 ERA and 0.865 WHIP.

In 2016, Arrieta helped lead the Cubs to the franchise' first World Series championship in 108 years. He pitched gems in winning Games Two and Six, both times tying the Fall Classic after Chicago had fallen behind the Cleveland Indians.

That year, Arrieta was selected as a National League All-Star for the first time, again finishing 9th in the NL Cy Young voting. In his final season with Chicago a year ago, Arrieta went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA. He allowed  150 hits over 168.1 innings with a 163/55 K:BB ratio last year.

While with the Cubs, Arrieta tossed a pair of no-hitters, one each in 2015 and 2016. Per Ed Barkowitz at Philly.com, in that 2015 no-no against the Los Angeles Dodgers he struck out the side in the 9th inning to end it, becoming the first to accomplish that feat since Sandy Koufax.



What was an extremely young and inexperienced pitching rotation now has a talented veteran at the front to take on a leadership role.

Manager Gabe Kapler will still go with Aaron Nola on Opening Day in Atlanta. However, Arrieta is not really behind the other pitchers, despite joining the club in Clearwater for Spring Training nearly a month late. He addressed readiness in his introductory press conference:
"I've been throwing 50-65 pitch bullpens every two or three days, so my arm strength is there. The workload is there. My body is in tremendous shape. I feel like we'll probably sit down and game plan, and decide how quickly I get into a game, how many pitches I'm able to throw right away, and develop a program to get me ready for the opening week of the season."
The Phillies rotation, given health, will be led by Arrieta and Nola. It appears in the early going that the club will slot Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez behind those two. The fifth starter job would then become a battle between Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, and Mark Leiter Jr.

No one in that group, including Nola, has more than two full big league seasons under their belt. Arrieta's experience and leadership will be invaluable to the others as they watch how he goes about his business. That goes not only for how he handles the ups and downs on the mound, but also how he handles himself in the clubhouse, during the off-season, and away from the game.

Based on a reasonable look at the remaining Grapefruit League schedule, Arrieta should get at least two and possibly three chances to start games in Florida. He could then be ready to start during the opening series in Atlanta.


However, the club might decide to pitch him in the following series at New York. There is also a chance that he could be the starter for the home opener at Citizens Bank Park on April 5th vs the Marlins.

The veteran began to display that leadership immediately, basically calling an end to the rebuilding program as quoted by Jim Salisbury with NBC Philadelphia:
"A message I want to 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. There is no guarantee you're going to feel good or you're going to have your best stuff or you're going to get a great night sleep the night before. But what we can promise is that we're going to have conviction, we're going to fight and we're going to win at the end of the day. I couldn't be happier to be a Phillie. I look forward to getting on the field with my teammates and winning some games."
It will take more than Arrieta to actually win. It will also take a step forward from the extremely young group of position players who will take the field behind those pitchers. Some will meet the challenge. Others may not.
But another key point that should not be missed with this signing is that it is just the beginning. When looked at in combination with deals for veteran first baseman Carlos Santana and relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, the Phillies front office clearly appear to be sending signals to the mega-talented 2019 free agent class that they are ready and willing to open up the checkbooks to bring in real veteran talent.
The players available next off-season read as a long list of recent MLB award winners and all-stars. Outfielders Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon, and Andrew McCutchen. Infielders Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Elvis Andrus, Daniel Murphy, and Brian Dozier. Pitchers Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrew Miller. 
Those are just some of the higher profile names. The list is extremely deep in veteran talent, depending on which players might ultimately agree to extensions before actually reaching free agency. The Phillies are in a financial position that will allow them to compete for 3-4 of those players, if they so desire. 
The Phillies are in transition. But now that transition is not from their previous glory years into a rebuilding stage. That happened over the last few years. Now the club is transitioning from rebuilding to winning. They are a financial powerhouse with a competitive controlling owner who legitimately hungers to win in John Middleton, a man who sat in Jeffrey Lurie's private box as the Eagles went on their Super Bowl-winning ride.
The Jake Arrieta signing brings in the veteran leader at the front of the starting pitching rotation that the Phillies needed if they really wanted to take a step forward this season. The signing signals to other upcoming free agents that the Phillies are ready to win now. Especially for these reasons, Arrieta is the perfect signing at the perfect time.

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