Hoooooooly smokes, they did it.
After months of back-and-forth will-they-won’t-they, their words and actions resting on opposite sides of an imbalanced scale in the nearly 12 weeks since signing Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek, and Tommy Hunter, the Phillies finally struck, landing the top remaining starting pitcher on the free agent market.
Jake Arrieta, 2015 Cy Young Award winner, is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Jake Arrieta gets $75 million over 3 years— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 11, 2018
Arrieta, who turned 32 on March 6, signed a three-year, $75 million deal to come aboard the Phillies’ ship. He instantly lends credibility and likely higher-end production to a starting rotation that really needed both, and figures to slot in behind Aaron Nola, who has already been announced as the Opening Day starter.
Since 2014, Arrieta ranks among the best starting pitchers in the game. Among those with 100 or more starts over the last four years (55 in all), his numbers are objectively impressive:
- 751.1 IP of 2.67 ERA (2nd only to Clayton Kershaw) and 150 ERA+ (3rd to Kershaw and Corey Kluber)
- 25.3 K% (tied with David Price for 9th-best) and 18.0 K%-BB% (13th)
- 54 home runs allowed (2nd-fewest to former teammate Kyle Hendricks, who’s allowed 53 in 160 fewer innings)
Mere days after letting Lance Lynn pass - or passing on him - and allowing in more doubt as to whether they’d actually make a move for a starter after all, Matt Klentak finally made the move we’d been clamoring for, and crystallized this team’s intentions on presenting a challenge for a Wild Card spot.
Arrieta doesn’t arrive without some concerns, of course. Pitchers, as we all know, tend to lose a bit of their age as they progress through their 30s. Arrieta is still early on in that progression with just over 1,100 Major League innings to his name at 32, but some natural concern lingers over how productive he’ll continue to be as the mid-30s settle in. For his part, Arrieta is steadfastly committed to his fitness (potential NSFW warning for bare booty in the lead picture of that article) and would appear well-positioned to fight off some effects of athletic aging.
His numbers over the last two seasons, too, have slipped a bit relative to his tremendous 2015. His ERA has gone from 1.77 to 3.10 to 3.53, his K% has slipped from 27.1 to 23.9 to 23.1, and his BB% has gone from 5.5 to 9.6 to 7.8 and his fastball velocity has gone from 94-95 to 92-94. Doubtless, some of these trends were what gave the Phillies pause about going for any deal longer than TK years. Still, even if the forecast calls for TK years of a No. 2 or No. 3-quality starting pitcher, that’s better weather than the Phils were likely in for if they relied too heavily on their in-house options. While there’s intrigue around the likes of Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and others, Arrieta figures to be better than any of them at the Major League level. The Phils bolster their depth and options in the event of injury, and also refresh their prospect pool for potential summer trades.
Long story short, the Phillies just got better, all without sacrificing their chances at a marquee 2018-19 free agent. They also prevent a top prize from going to a division rival (the Nationals had been linked to Arrieta, as well) and keep pace in the Wild Card chase with the Brewers, Cardinals, and Rockies, who were already a notch above the Phils and had made improvements of their own this winter.
Things are now very real. We have a team that has the potential for volatility and falling short, but we also have a squad better suited to make a run at a playoff berth than any we’ve seen since 2012. The rebuild is over, and the playoff hunt is back on.
UPDATE: The Phillies made the signing official Monday evening. In a corresponding move, the Phils designated first baseman Tommy Joseph for assignment, and the 40-man roster remains full.