Free agency brings mix of emotions for Cubs' Arrieta
MESA, Ariz. -- Jake Arrieta is entering the point in his career that every athlete looks at with a flood of emotions and thoughts: the free-agent year, or the "walk" year.
At 31 years old, the Chicago Cubs right-hander for the first time can determine his place of employment at the end of the 2017 baseball season.
Of course, there is the prospect of Arrieta cashing in big, either with the Cubs or some other team, based on how he does this season.
That alone is enough to excite anybody about free agency.
But also tugging at Arrieta are the friendships and relationships he has made in Chicago as he collected a Cy Young Award and a World Series title.
"Time flies really quickly," he said Wednesday as Cubs pitchers and catchers held their first formal workouts of spring training. "It feels like only a few months ago that I was traded over here and starting my career as a Cub in 2013. We've had some incredible experiences with this organization.
"I don't want to see that time come to an end, my time as a Cub. Unfortunately, the business side of the game shows its head every once in awhile. But I still think there are opportunities and chances that we can have good conversations as far as an extension is concerned and see if we can get something worked out."
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday there was nothing new to report on a contract extension for Arrieta, who will make $15.6 million this season.
Arrieta has made plenty of money in his career, which is why he said the impending free agency won't be a distraction.
"Once you get to a certain point in your career financially, it's a little easier to put that out of mind," he said. "Financially, it's not a big worry for myself individually. The less of a distraction that can play on the team and on everyone in this clubhouse the better."
Arrieta has been very good for the Cubs since they obtained him from Baltimore along with reliever Pedro Strop in July 2013 as part of trade that sent pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles.
As a Cub, Arrieta is 54-21 with a 2.52 ERA. Since the beginning of his Cy Young season in 2015, he has gone 40-14 with a 2.39 ERA. He has tossed a pair of no-hitters in that time and held opposing hitters a .189 batting average.
So with the track record Arrieta brings, Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn't worried about any extraneous thoughts creeping into his pitcher's head.
"Honestly, I think it can be a positive for him and for us," Maddon said. "Obviously, if you're in that year, you really want to put your best foot forward to attract the best contract the next season. We had our meeting this morning with Jake. I've said it all the time. I'm always impressed with our guys when they walk out the door. He was just all about winning. He's all about making all of his starts. That's where is mind is at right now.
"He's good. He's very good. If he makes all of his starts, just that alone is going to mean the numbers are going to be good enough to attract a lot of suitors, I believe. I think he has the right mindset: Let's go one game at a time. Let's try to make all of our starts, stay healthy. And if you're good, the numbers are going to pop."
At the Cubs convention in January, I asked Arrieta about being able to test the free-agent market. He was drafted in 2007 by the Orioles and endured some career ups and downs before turning his career around with the Cubs.
"As a player, you're told where you're going to play your whole career until free agency," he said. "So that's a nice aspect of it, to be able to decide for once where you want to go, but this is a pretty good place to play. There are some great cities out there, some good teams, but I'm not worried about that now. I'm trying to be a good teammate and perform to the best of my ability for these guys for another season, and then we'll go from there."
Still, there's that tug that comes from being a Cub.
"I'll always feel a part of this organization for the rest of my life because I came over here in '13 and turned my career around, won a Cy Young, threw a couple no-hitters, won a World Series," he said. "So that's going to be hard to top wherever I go, if I leave. Yeah, I'll feel a part of this city and this organization for a long time."
• Follow Bruce's reports from spring training via Twitter @BruceMiles2112.