“A four-and-a-half year stretch that would forever change our lives,’’ Arrieta wrote of his Cubs tenure. “Thanks to so many amazing people all holding one another to a very high standard.’’
Who said Arrieta couldn’t close?
Praise for the bearded Cubs legend came easily after reading his carefully chosen words to the city he called home from 2013 through 2017. But so did a measure of pity.
Nobody will feel too sorry for the professional athlete who just signed a contract with the Phillies guaranteeing $75 million over the next three seasons. But even if Arrieta never would admit it, you wonder if a small part of him regrets listening so obediently to so-called super agent Scott Boras, whose unrealistic demands always made it difficult to envision the right-hander remaining a Cub. Arrieta might have been the one standing outside the Phillies team plane in a tweet Monday night, but behind the scenes it was Boras who gassed up the jet and devised the flight plan.
Did Arrieta’s smile look a little forced? No matter how excited Arrieta sounds when the Phillies introduce him Tuesday in Florida, how happy can one of baseball’s most competitive pitchers really be after leaving a perennial World Series contender for a team that will consider a .500 season successful?
Arrieta followed Boras’ advice all the way out of town, from Wrigley Field to Citizens Bank Park, which Philly.com on Monday called “a home run factory.’’ He trusted baseball’s system, and the broken system let him down as much as his agent.
More than anything, Boras’ greed got in the way of Arrieta riding off in the sunset as a Cub in a baseball city that would have adored him through his last pitch. Of course, those intangibles don’t always help increase the commission. Agents driven solely by the bottom line often let dollar signs blur their perspective.
Go ahead and point out all the extenuating circumstances about the unprecedented slow pace of the free-agent marketplace but Boras never showed interest in seizing any of the opportunities to hammer out a long-term deal with the Cubs – and, over the past two years, several existed. The latest came in January when USA Today reported the Cubs were willing to bring Arrieta back on a four-year, $110 million deal. But it takes two sides to make a deal.
Feel free to fawn over Boras, who Forbes said “deftly negotiated another creative contract,” that reports say has the potential of reaching $135 million in incentives over five years. But remember what Boras always insisted Arrieta was worth, an absurd total well beyond the maximum he can make with the Phillies.
Baseball executives believed Boras sought a contract in the $200 million range, comparing Arrieta to aces in that contract bracket such as Justin Verlander of the Astros and Max Scherzer of the Nationals. You don’t have to be a sabermetician to conclude something went amiss if Arrieta settled for 38 percent of that amount. No way the 75-page binder Boras distributed to MLB owners at the winter meetings projected Arrieta to sign a deal worth only $75 million guaranteed. That total is $15 million less, by the way, than the five-year, $90 million deal Jeff Samardzija signed for with the Giants two years ago.
The man with the colorful language — “He’s a big squirrel with lots of nuts in his trees,’’ Boras bragged — failed to back up his big talk as Arrieta was left scrounging for free-agent scraps three weeks before spring training.
The only bigger surprise across baseball might have been Mike Moustakas — another Boras client who heeded his advice to stay patient — returning to the Royals on a one-year, $6.5 million contract after some projections estimated the third baseman would command a package around $80 million.
Arrieta’s former Cubs teammates gave him the respect he earned upon learning the news, and the front office moved on long ago after Boras made his outlandish conditions clear. The Cubs wisely preferred Yu Darvish over Arrieta anyway because the Japanese star figures to pitch at a higher level over the next several years. The six-year, $126 million contract the Cubs signed the 31-year-old to last month represented the price of playing poker. Darvish offers an upgrade over Arrieta, by most accounts, and gives the Cubs perhaps the deepest starting rotation in the National League.
But it’s important to note, amid the tributes and farewells, that the Cubs never would have been in a position to choose between the two right-handers had Boras ever budged or Arrieta instructed his agent to pursue a deal to stay. Neither did. Had Boras ever made keeping his client in a first-class, comfortable environment conducive to winning a higher priority than signing the richest contract possible, Arrieta still might be a Cub. Instead, Arrieta chose to obey Boras, who lost a stare down with MLB owners.
The next letter the new Phillies ace writes should be simpler, shorter but just as emphatic. He can address it to his agent.
Three words will suffice: Thanks for nothing.