“A message I want to send to not only the players, but Philadelphia in general and the entire Phillies nation,” Jake Arrieta said yesterday at his introductory presser, “is that what we’re going to do here is, we’re going to promise a fight. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to feel good [each day] or that you’re going to get a good night’s 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.”
By Sam Bush
There was an air of giddiness yesterday in Clearwater.
The Jake Arrieta signing — for a three-year contract worth a guaranteed $75 million, plus options and escalators that could take it to five years and up to $125 million — has energized a franchise that has averaged 93 losses the past five seasons and went 66-96 and finished 31 games out of first place in 2017.
“This is going to be a pretty perfect marriage,” said Gabe Kapler, the Phillies’ rookie manager, “[between] what our players need from Jake and what Jake can bring to our clubhouse.”
“We [liked] Jake’s competitiveness, the way he competes, his work ethic,” said General Manager Matt Klentak, who, like much of the Phillies’ brain trust, was with the Baltimore Orioles when that franchise drafted Arrieta in 2007. “He’s a winner.”
The Phillies have treated these past 4½ months as a bake-off.
Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, was the fourth free agent signed to a multiyear deal by the Phillies this offseason and the fourth eight-figure contract the team has handed out.
In both categories, only the Chicago Cubs — who happen to have been Arrieta’s employer for the past 4½ years — have exceeded the Phils’ totals. The Phillies are also the only team to have inked more than one contract of $50 million or more, having given first baseman Carlos Santana a three-year, $60 million deal in December.
In spending a total of $169.2 million in guaranteed contracts this offseason, the Phillies have outspent the rest of the NL East ($116.245 million) by roughly 46 percent. (The first-place Washington Nationals, by comparison, have spent just $23.3 million.)
By the end of 2017, the Phillies were at a point in their rebuild where they had cleared the books of almost any player making significant money. At the same time, the team, through the play of young building blocks such as starting pitcher Aaron Nola and slugger Rhys Hoskins, had gone 37-36 over their final 73 games, which the front office took as a signal the corner had been turned.
The Phillies could have given their rebuild another year, waited until next winter and — with their strong revenue and paltry salary commitments — gone nuts in a historic free agent market that will include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and possibly Clayton Kershaw. (And they still might, it’s worth pointing out.) But in the strange, depressed free agent market of the winter of 2017-18, the Phillies also saw the chance to find bargains — and perhaps put themselves in position to contend for a playoff spot a year early.
“We showed [last year] we had some pretty good players,” Hoskins said. “We might just need a piece or two or three to push us over the top. And we’re fortunate enough our ownership has taken that into their hands.”
The Phillies began talking with Scott Boras, Arrieta’s agent, in November, back when Boras was said to be floating names like Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million) and Max Scherzer (seven years, $210 million) as comparables. But they waited and waited, and by late February heard numbers more to their liking — then needed about two weeks to hammer out a complex deal that includes an opt-out for Arrieta after 2019 that the Phillies can override by granting a two-year extension.
“When you bring in players like Jake,” said Boras, “you put the cream in the coffee where it’s ready to drink.”
But the harsher truth is that the thriving marketplace Boras and Arrieta may have imagined emerging for the pitcher’s services never materialized. The Cubs showed little interest in re-signing him and moved on with Yu Darvish (six years, $126 million) last month.
“I think there were a number of reasons things didn’t go in a different direction [with the Cubs],” said Arrieta, who spent much of the winter training near his Texas home, “but that wasn’t necessarily the direction that maybe I wanted to go in.”