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Jake Arrieta, the former Cy Young Award winner who helped the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series title in more than a century, on Sunday agreed with the Philadelphia Phillies on a three-year, $75 million deal. The agreement is pending a physical.
Arrieta, 32, would join a young rotation for a franchise seeking to speed its recovery from five consecutive non-competitive seasons. Among the last of the upper-tier free agents to secure a contract, Arrieta would arrive in Phillies camp with barely more than two weeks remaining before opening day. He is perhaps getting out a season ahead of the Phillies’ bigger plan, as they are expected to bid on prospective free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, among others, next winter.
The Cubs on Feb. 13 signed free-agent right-hander Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126-million contract, effectively ending Arrieta’s five-year run in Chicago.
“None of us,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at the time of the Darvish signing, “have rings without Jake Arrieta.”
Floundering in Baltimore when the Orioles sent Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop to the Cubs for catcher Steve Clevenger and pitcher Scott Feldman, among the worst trades in Orioles history, Arrieta remade himself as a Cub. In 128 starts over 4 ½ seasons, Arrieta was 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA in Chicago. He was the National League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2015, when he was 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA. He led the league that year in complete games and shutouts, along with fewest hits and home runs per nine. (His ERA in parts of four seasons for the Orioles was 5.46.)
On Aug. 30, 2015, he no-hit the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, the last of three shutouts he’d throw that season. Seven-and-a-half months later, Arrieta threw a no-hitter in Cincinnati. They were the 14th and 15th no-hitters in Cubs history, and the first since Carlos Zambrano’s in 2008.
Though not quite as dominant over three postseasons, Arrieta twice beat the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series.
As Arrieta approached free agency, and as contract extension talks with the Cubs stalled, Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, told reporters, “It’s like being in a museum and seeing contemporary art on one side and the Mona Lisa on the other. We’re both in the same museum. We both agree that the art is great. But we’re in two different hallways.”
His way of saying the two sides were considerably apart. The gap never was closed.
And so, in the same otherwise light free-agent class as Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, along with the wild card in Shohei Ohtani, Arrieta hit the market as a front-end starter in an era of six- and seven-year deals well into nine figures. Arrieta, like Cobb, carried into free agency the qualifying offer, worth $17.4 million, which he declined.
The Cubs figured to at least be a player for Arrieta. The Los Angeles Dodgers required a pitcher to replace Darvish, a No. 2 to Clayton Kershaw’s No. 1. The Texas Rangers, who dealt Darvish to the Dodgers at the last trading deadline, once again were short starting pitching. The Seattle Mariners, likely witnessing the decline of Felix Hernandez, and Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles, neither with anything close to an ace, were reasonable landing spots. So, too, were the St. Louis Cardinals, who have missed the playoffs in consecutive years and stood to lose Lynn in free agency.
As free agency dragged, suggesting Arrieta’s market wasn’t what he thought it was, other teams – the Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers – were rumored to have some degree of interest in the decorated right-hander.
Boras commanded much of the top end of the winter market, which stalled, led to sniping between Boras and league officials, and bled into spring training. First baseman Eric Hosmer signed with the San Diego Padres on Feb. 19. Outfielder J.D. Martinez agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox on the same day. Arrieta, along with third baseman Mike Moustakas and reliever Greg Holland, remained unsigned among Boras clients.