CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jake Arrieta pulled his arms through a Phillies jersey Tuesday morning and tugged on a red cap two days after agreeing to a three-year deal worth $75 million.
“Right size and everything,” Arrieta said. “Beautiful.”
The scene — Arrieta dressed in Phillies garb at a morning news conference to describe how he got here — felt so unlikely and almost unimaginable just three months ago when agent Scott Boras hand-delivered the Phillies a 75-page binder, detailing the reasons they should sign his client.
Arrieta had won a Cy Young Award two seasons earlier. He reached the postseason in three straight years and made 30 starts in each of the last three seasons. Boras sought a six- or seven-year deal worth $125 million. The Phillies had interest in Arrieta but no interest in meeting those terms. Perhaps another team would page through that binder and feel inspired. But the free-agent market moved this winter at a historically slow pace. Spring training began, and Arrieta was without a team.
“There were times that it was tough,” said Arrieta, 32. “But I’ll tell you this: I have tremendous confidence and faith in my talent and in my ability. So I knew regardless of how long it was going to take, I was going to sign with an organization.”
There were concerns this winter when Arrieta hit the market. He threw 229 innings in that 2015 Cy Young season and averaged just 183 in the two years since. His velocity dipped 2 mph, and his ERA doubled. It was easy to understand why other teams, not just the Phillies, were wary about extending a long-term offer to Arrieta.
The Phillies, general manager Matt Klentak said, studied the pitcher’s velocity and delved into his performance in the second half of last season. He is a competitor, Klentak said. Arrieta said his velocity decrease is “not a tremendous concern.” Every pitcher, he said, reaches a point where he understands that pitching is not simply about how hard he is throwing.
“High velocity or not, I know exactly what I’m doing on the mound and I know how to utilize my stuff to the best of my ability,” Arrieta said. “Does that mean the velocity won’t be up this year? No, because I think baseball has shown sometimes you have a dip in velocity one year and a spike the next year. It’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to maybe utilize another variable in your game. If that velocity does go back to 95-96, then the league is in a lot of trouble. But I don’t think that’s what tells the entire story. Obviously, velocity is sexy in this game, but there are a lot of great pitchers that can pitch without it.”
Arrieta was forced to lower his contract demands as each day of camp ended without him wearing a uniform. Boras called the Phillies two weeks ago, knowing they still had that binder and were still in desperate need of a starting pitcher. The two parties talked sporadically. A short-team deal, one that the Phillies would’ve pounced on three months earlier, seemed to be in reach.
“The question was, simply, would it make sense economically in terms of years and dollars?” Klentak said. “That’s the part it took a few months to sort through.”
The negotiations peaked Thursday night when Klentak said the two parties “laid their cards on the table.” They finalized an agreement just after midnight Saturday night and Arrieta flew Sunday to Philadelphia. The deal became official Monday when he passed his physical. The pitcher boarded John Middleton’s private jet — a white Bombardier Challenger with a Phillies “P” on the tail — and flew to Florida. Klentak waited on the tarmac in St. Petersburg with other members of the front office to greet Arrieta. The plane touched down late Monday. The Phillies had landed one of the offseason’s premier free agents. And it all seemed so unlikely.
“It’s a done deal now,” Arrieta said. “There were times where we were wondering where we were going to be and when it was going to happen, and that’s just natural. You’re trying to figure out for your family where you’re going to live, who your teammates are going to be, and what uniform you’re going to wear. But I don’t think I’d change it for anything in the world. I think it’s hardened me as a person and a player. It’s made me probably a better husband and a better father, and it’s just part of life. You can’t write the script yourself.”