Chicago Cubs: Could Jake Arrieta return to the North Side?

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

With the Chicago Cubs having holes in their starting rotation as they enter the offseason, Jake Arrieta could be an intriguing option for the team.

The focus for the Chicago Cubs as they enter the offseason has been on improving the offense, but there should also be attention paid to their starting rotation.

Outside of Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish, the rest of the Cubs’ starting rotation was plagued with inconsistency beginning with veteran Jon Lester.

In 12 starts during the 2020 season, Lester posted a 5.16 ERA (5.14 FIP) with a 1.328 WHIP. Lester is a free agent this offseason and at the age of 36, the veteran has expressed a desire to return to the Cubs for at least one more season. While there is no doubt that Lester is the most important free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs’ organization, this time does mark the ability for the team to have a clean break from the veteran as they begin their transition to their next contending window.

Another impending free agent in the Cubs’ rotation is Jose Quintana. Quintana was the Cubs’ big-ticket acquisition at the 2017 Major League Baseball trade deadline. It was the trade heard around all of Chicago as the Cubs sent top prospect Eloy Jimenez to the White Sox as part of a multi-prospect package for Quintana.

Unfortunately, for the Cubs, Quintana has yet to evolve into the front-line starting pitcher that the team believed they were acquiring in 2017. 2020 was more of the same for Quintana. Quintana was only limited to 4 appearances for the Cubs in 2020 due to a thumb injury and posted a 4.50 ERA (2.99 FIP) through 10 innings pitched.

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With Quintana and Lester free agents this offseason and question mark at the Cubs’ fifth starter’s spot in their rotation, it stands to reason that the team will be in the starting pitcher market this winter.

One option that the Cubs should consider is former friend Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta signed a three year, $75 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies after the 2017 season. It was the off-season where the Cubs essentially elected to sign Darvish instead of re-signing Arrieta to a lucrative contract.

The Phillies do hold a team option for Arrieta in 2021 but early indications are that the option will not be picked up. Especially when looking at the struggles that Arrieta had in 2020.

In 9 starts with the Phillies during the 2020 season, Arrieta posted a 5.08 ERA (4.66 FIP) and 1.511 WHIP. The 2020 season marked the third consecutive season of regression for Arrieta and likely will be the reason why he hits the market this winter.

While Arrieta certainly is not the same pitcher that won the National League Cy Young Award with the Cubs in 2015, he still could bring value to the north side as the third or fourth starter in their starting rotation.

What needs to be considered is would Arrieta be a better option for the Cubs than any in-house options they have?

The first in-house option that the Cubs have is Alec Mills. Like all of the Cubs’ starting pitchers in 2020 outside of Darvish and Hendricks, Mills had his ups and downs with the team during the shortened season. Mills did toss a no-hitter during the 2020 season but his 4.48 ERA (5.44 FIP) through 11 starts speak to the inconsistencies that he had. Mills may be best suited as the swingman in the Cubs’ rotation with the occasional spot start.

The next in-house option that the Cubs have is prospect Adbert Alzolay. Given the injuries to the Cubs’ rotation during the 2020 season, the team turned to Alzolay as a fill-in for the rotation. Alzolay did not disappoint. In 6 appearances (4 starts) with the Cubs in 2020, Alzolay posted a 2.95 ERA (3.05 FIP) while averaging 12.2 strikeouts per 9 innings. Given his success in 2020, Alzolay likely will get an opportunity to start for the Cubs in 2021.

With Alzolay likely starting, the question becomes would the Cubs rather Arrieta or Mills in the starting rotation? Arrieta is the answer to that question.

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Should the Chicago Cubs pursue Jake Arrieta this offseason? Sound off in the comment sections with your thoughts on the potential reunion.