Arrieta to Philly Signals Tough Times in Arlington

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 24: Jake Arrieta
CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 24: Jake Arrieta /

The Texas Rangers have been quiet this offseason. GM Jon Daniels said they would not bring in any big players, and so far that has been true.

Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Phillies officially signed Jake Arrieta to a three-year, 75 million dollar deal (with team options for a fourth and a fifth year). There had been talks about the Texas Rangers pursuing the former Cy Young winner, but GM Jon Daniels was insistent that the Rangers wouldn’t be making any big splashes this offseason. True to his word, they have not.

Predictably, the boo birds were out in full force when the terms of the deal broke. The righty will make $30 million this year, $25 million in 2019, and $20 million in 2020. He just turned 32 years old, and his numbers have dropped since his historic campaign in 2015.

2015 was one of the greatest seasons a pitcher in the modern era has ever had; Arrieta was simply untouchable all year. In 2016, he “regressed” to the tune of a 3.10 ERA, 135 ERA+, and a 3.52 FIP, leading the league in H/9 and finishing 9th in the Cy Young vote. 2017 was less friendly, but Arrieta still only allowed 66 earned runs in 168 innings while putting up a 3.53 ERA, a 123 ERA+, and a respectable 4.16 FIP. By all statistical measures, Arrieta was a top 20 pitcher in baseball last season.

Am I suggesting that top-20 pitchers should make $30m per year? Well, I mean…not unless they can? What is there to say, really, other than that the market determines the value? Maybe Arrieta doesn’t deserve $30m this season, but maybe Francisco Lindor deserves more than $540,300? Where are all of the people clambering for him to get a mega-raise that greatly impacts his clubs financial flexibility?

For all of the talk about Arrieta’s age, it seems important to remember that he was a late bloomer, and has only thrown 1,161 innings in his eight big league seasons. Johnny Cueto (also 32) has thrown just under 1800 innings in his career. Felix Hernandez is actually one year younger than Arrieta but has thrown more than twice as many innings as Arrieta, with 2,502. The Texas Rangers’ own Cole Hamels, at 33 years old, has logged 2,362 innings.

All of those guys are in Arrieta’s age bracket. All of those guys also make big bucks ($20+m annually), and all of those guys make big bucks without a whole lot of fuss from the outside. Say what you will about their body of work before their big payday (a fair thing to point to, to be sure), but there can be no doubt that Jake Arrieta has been in the same league as all of those names over the last three seasons.

There’s no denying the effects that age, especially on a pitcher’s arm. But, I posit that Arrieta (of all 32-year-old pitchers) might feel the effects of it less than others. He is a notorious fitness fanatic, and coupling that with his relatively light career load, it seems disingenuous to suggest that simply because he’s 32, his career is trending in the wrong direction. If he were to pitch at, say, his 2016 level for the next three seasons, the Phillies would be ecstatic.

Okay, okay — what does this have to do with the Rangers?

Folks around Rangers camp were quick to point to Arrieta’s contract as the primary reason that Texas didn’t pursue a frontline guy who played collegiately in their backyard and makes his home in Austin. That $75m guaranteed over three years was just an absolute deal breaker. The Texas Rangers were, like, so smart to pass on him for that much money. As if this were some albatross of a contract, a la Ryan Howard or Josh Hamilton.

But somehow those same people are making excuses for the Shin-Soo Choo’s and Rougned Odor’s of the world, whose contracts are just brutalizing the Texas Rangers financial flexibility. Texas Ranger fans have all the reason in the world to believe that those guys are going to turn things around, but Arrieta? No way, man. Texas passed on that busted-up, old, haggard arm, and rightly so.

Look: it’s hard being a baseball fan. It’s as if you have to choose between being honest and being delusional, and maybe every five or ten or twenty years, the two overlap for a season and all is right in the world.

Particularly for those fans who are used to being good year in and year out, it’s tough to admit failures and mistakes. Being a fan shouldn’t have to mean relentlessly defending your favorite team’s decisions, contracts, trades, and so on; being a fan should mean loving your favorite team, in spite of some occasional (or frequent, or constant, depending) blunders.

In some weird, masochistic way, the downturns an even be fun. It necessitates change, and once change stops being uncomfortable, it becomes exciting.

Truth is, Arrieta’s deal makes great sense, even financially, for the Phillies. When he hits 35, the team can cut bait if they’re so inclined. In the meantime, the Phils see a legitimate playoff window opening, as well as a huge 2018 offseason around the bend, both of which Arrieta might play a big role in.

It’s not absurd to think that the Phillies could be above-average this season, and even, dare I say, good for several seasons thereafter. People were skeptical when the Cubs gave Jon Lester big money as a 31-year-old, too, and they’ll be paying him $20+ million per season until he’s 37. Lester’s track record far exceeds Arrieta’s, but Lester has also never sniffed the 2015 that Arrieta had.

Since 2015, here’s how they line up:

Lester: 3.37 ERA, 128 ERA+, 3.48 FIP

Arrieta: 2.80 ERA, 158 ERA+, 3.34 FIP

Say what you will about Arrieta’s 2015 being an outlier; Lester’s 2016 might have been, too. Arrieta is two years younger, as well.

And the money?

Over the next three seasons, the Phillies are paying exactly two players a double-digit salary: Arrieta, and Carlos Santana. Their third-highest salary in 2018 is $9m to (former Ranger) Tommy Hunter. The only other player on the books through 2020 is (former Ranger prospect) Odubel Herrera, who will make a combined $16m in 2018, 19, and 20.

You think the Phillies are worried about $75 million dollars over the next three seasons? Their best and brightest players won’t even be free agents until after 2022. Arrieta, risk and all, just makes sense. Talk all you want to about the free agent class of 2018; the Phillies are setting themselves up to compete this year.

And the Rangers?

Well, if you want my opinion (and I’m assuming you do), it’s that they know Arrieta’s three years with Philadelphia would be wasted in Arlington. They know that 2018 isn’t going to be a great year, and that, barring some truly outrageous numbers from a few of their core guys and a big-ticket free agent or two next year, 2019 ain’t looking any friendlier.

And, hey! That’s okay! Just say so!

We need Rougned Odor to figure things out, and Willie Calhoun to figure some things out, and Matt Bush and Keone Kela to figure some things out, and Nomar Mazara to keep figuring things out, and the Texas Rangers to figure Jurickson Profar out, and on and on and on we go.

2018 can be bumpy, so long as there’s progress. The Rangers farm seems to be mending, and the young guys who are on the cusp of making the big leagues are likely going to get their shots this year. This is what makes baseball great.

But let’s call a spade a spade, folks. A good, competitive Texas Rangers team gives Jake Arrieta 3/$75m. They give him his contract and roll him and Hamels out to chase down a pennant or two in a pretty critical year for many of the Rangers players (cough, Beltre, cough).

More from Texas Rangers

Sadly, this is not shaping up to be a good, competitive Rangers team. Scrappy? Sure. Full of heart? Of course. But, good? Like, beat Houston or Cleveland or New York in September good?? Martin Perez or Doug Fister are one Cole Hamels injury away from being our #1 starter. Read that again.

Don’t come at me with that “competitive ballclub” boo-boo. We’ll all watch, and root, and cheer, and pout for our boys this year, but not one of us is honestly in our hearts expecting the Texas Rangers to play an inning past 162 games this year.

Next: After Cole Hamels, Rangers Pitching Looks Shaky at Best

Which is a bit sad, because, honestly, Arrieta is a fun guy to have. An established guy. A not-past-his-prime-or-always-injured guy. Lord knows he makes any team better. But the contract excuses have got to stop. Texas didn’t stray from Arrieta because of his excessive financial demands; they didn’t stray from him because of his “declining performance”, they strayed because of theirs.