When the Cubs replaced Jake Arrieta by signing Yu Darvish , Arrieta became the best available pitcher on the free agent market. The Phillies stuck to their guns and waited for Arrieta and his agent, Scott Boras, to drop their price and came away the winner in the marathon free agent market sweepstakes.
The Phillies and Arrieta have reportedly agreed to a somewhat complex three-year deal worth $75-million dollars. The deal is dependent on the 32-year old right-hander passing a physical. Arrieta will make $30-million in 2018, $25-million in 2019 and a ‘scant’ $20-million in 2020. However, the deal gets complicated following year two. At that point, Arrieta can kick-in an opt-out clause and seek a deal elsewhere or seek to renegotiate with the Phillies. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Phillies could block the opt-out clause by picking up a two-year extension on the contract at $25-million per year, depending on how many starts Arrieta would make for the Phillies. It’s complicated further by the fact that the $25-million amount could go as high as $30-million per year depending on where he finishes in Cy Young Award balloting over those two seasons.
In short, it’s a bit complicated, but it actually works pretty well for both teams. The Phillies aren’t locked into anything past three years unless they decide that Arrieta is pitching well enough to warrant going longer. If he turns out to not be the pitcher they had hoped and he doesn’t opt-out after two seasons, they’re only stuck for one more year at the lowest financial level of the contract. That would also give the Phillies young pitchers more time to develop and it could be that they won’t necessarily need to keep Arrieta around longer than three years. The front-loaded money in the deal also keeps them in the running to sign more free agents over the next couple of seasons if they decide to do so.
The deal also has a cost beyond the money. Because Arrieta was offered a qualifying contract by the Cubs and declined the offer, the Phillies will have to pony-up a third round pick to Chicago. It would have normally been a second-round pick, but the team already sacrificed that pick when they signed Carlos Santana. The team will also lose another $500-thousand in international slot money because of the signing, just as they did when they signed Santana back in December. It’s possible that the Phillies front office is cringing as much about the lost draft picks and slot money than they are the financial cost of the deal since they have money to spend, but have coveted draft picks and international signings during their rebuild.
Meghan Montemurro of The Athletic points out that the Phillies have been outspent in free agency over the offseason by only the Cubs. Chicago has spent a total of $205-million on free agents since the end of last season, while the Phillies – including Arrieta’s contract – have spent a total of $169.25-million with the signing of Arrieta, first baseman Carlos Santana and relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.
Arrieta will likely slot in behind Aaron Nola to take the number-two spot in the rotation. At this point, the rest of the rotation would figure to include Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta. Ben Lively, Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson are fighting for a spot in the rotation, but will likely wind up back at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Mark Leiter Jr. is on the fringe of a battle for a rotation spot, but will likely wind up either as the long man out of the bullpen or pitching at Lehigh Valley.