Arrieta deal works perfectly for savvy Phillies

Jake Arrieta became the second Scott Boras client to sign in two days when he agreed to a three-year, $75 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. It’s a complicated deal, as reported by Jon Heyman.

Boras and the Phillies’ front office have negotiated a deal that works for both sides. This is perhaps a sign of things to come in MLB’s free agency with opt outs and team options avoiding the heavily player-favoured contracts that have contributed to the slow-moving market.

Arrieta becomes the fourth high profile Philly free agent acquisition of the offseason, joining first baseman Carlos Santana and relievers, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. The Phillies have gone from ‘finalizing the rebuild’ to ‘outside wildcard contenders’ this winter.

ZIPS projects the Phillies – even with their quartet of free agents – to win 76 games. That would have them 6 games back on the second wildcard spot. Those projections do not account for any breakout years from the Phillies’ young, talented rotation or their prospects who are due to be everyday players.

Rhys Hoskins and Santana (both 125) are the only Phillies projected to have a wRC+ (weighted runs created) above the league-average of 100. That might turn out to be accurate, but highly-rated shortstop prospect JP Crawford, Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera all have a good chance of exceeding their projections.

Arrieta arrives as much for the off-field impact as his starting pitching resume. The former Cub is a signal that the Phillies are major players in free agency again ahead of the once-in-a-generation 2018 class. He, too, brings experience to a rotation that has yet to deliver the results befitting their talent. His Cy Young competing days may be behind him, but Arrieta will have a significant role to play in the development of Vince Velazquez, Nick Pivetta and others.

The impressive 2017 of Aaron Nola, who threw nearly 170 innings in 30 starts at a 3.54 ERA, might mean Arrieta is not even the best starter on the club. Arrieta is projected to have a higher FIP, higher ERA and pitch fewer innings than Nola in 2018.

While those numbers hardly scream ‘$30 million starter’, the off-field implications help the deal make sense. If Arrieta returns to somewhere near his best, the Phillies have a great deal for two years, then he probably opts out. If Arrieta plateaus or declines, the Phillies are only tied to the ex-Oriole for three years and effectively gain $5 million each season. The only challenge is if Arrieta is good, because then the Phillies are left with a dilemma ahead of 2020.

No contending team was going to offer $30 million for Arrieta in 2018, and rightly so. For the Phillies, though, this makes sense. It caps an ambitious, well-managed offseason from the Red Pinstripes.

The 2008 World Series winners are well within reach of a wildcard berth this season. They were always going to be involved in the bidding wars next winter, but selling the project at Citizen’s Bank Park is considerably easier with the opportunistic acquisitions made since the end of the 2017 season.

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Sam is a widely published freelance writer, covering basketball, baseball and a range of other sports. He's still trying to decide if he prefers a rundown shot block or a smooth double play. Twitter: @SamRCox_