The Rundown: Latest on Cubs’ Pursuit of Gray, Arrieta ‘Would Love to Stay,’ Hot Bats are Fun

No sooner had the ink dried on the Jose Quintana deal than the Cubs were reported to be continuing their pursuit of Sonny Gray. I took that “news” with a big grain of salt, especially since the Cubs had just used their two biggest bargaining chips and the price for Gray was said to be very high. It didn’t get any lower when he put up the best performance by a guy who had been scratched from his start (sorry, Kap, I had to).

Surely the A’s would be asking for one of the guys already up in the bigs in order to make it work, and that’s not something that makes much sense right now. At least not from my perspective. Gray is on a very cheap contract and has boatloads of talent, but he’s also been pretty erratic over the last few seasons and isn’t known for his good health.

Much of the reason the Cubs went in big on Quintana is that he’s a low-risk pitcher, the kind of investment you make when you’re nearing retirement. Gray would have made more sense a couple years ago, or if the asking price was limited to some of the redundant prospects the Cubs have remaining. But if the latter was the case, I’d imagine this deal would be done already.

Patrick Mooney suggested during the broadcast of Friday’s game that the Cubs/Gray rumors were likely just a way for Theo Epstein to do Billy Beane a solid by driving up the price for the A’s starter. Kind of like, “Hey, man, I still feel bad for how thoroughly we fleeced you in the Addison Russell trade, especially since we then signed Jon Lester, so let me know when I can ease my conscience by throwing you a bone.”

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal more or less confirmed as much in a video posted Saturday afternoon.

“Now with Sonny Gray, it’s a little bit different equation,” Rosenthal explained. “To get him, the Cubs would have to part almost certainly with Ian Happ or one of their other top young position players. Do you see that happening? I don’t.

“And not especially when they can go with what they have for the rest of the season and then sign a free agent, such Alex Cobb or Tyler Chatwood in the offseason. Frankly, it’s in the Cubs’ interest and it’s in the A’s’ interest to let it be known that the Cubs are still in on Gray.

It’s only going to increase the pressure on the Brewers, who are a known suitor, maybe increase the price as well. The big question for me, guys, is how quickly the A’s are going to act. Of all the controllable starters out there, Gray is the one who is available, known to be available, and he’s available right now. The others, you just don’t know if they’re going to be out there.”

I already addressed most of those points here, but the middle section of quoted material has a gem I’d like to polish up a little further. It’s what we talked about when it came to the ultimate value of Quintana’s contract, which is that it allows the Cubs plenty of room to make a move for a free agent this winter. Either Chatwood or Cobb would make a very nice addition to the rotation for 2018 and beyond, and neither figures to command a massive deal. Substantial, sure, just not the kind of money Jake Arrieta thought he’d be able to get prior to this year.

Not that it matters at this point, but Rosenthal also said the Yankees were one of the teams that had made an offer on Quintana

Arrieta “would love to stay”

“I would love to stay,” Arrieta said after a sparkling performance in his first trip back to Baltimore since the now-infamous trade that shipped him to Chicago. “That would be cool. But if it doesn’t work out, that’s the nature of professional sports.

“If I have to leave, I don’t want to leave without another ring.”

So is this a softening of the stance the Arrieta has taken since the idea of an extension came to the forefront a couple winters ago? Probably not. Though the pitcher has gone from saying he doesn’t need an “astronomical amount of money” to proclaiming that “aces get seven years,” one constant throughout has been the idea that he’d love to stay in the same place for the rest of his career.

He even said prior to the game that that was the plan in Baltimore as well. And though that move was not something Arrieta had control over, the trade already eliminated the possibility of being a one-team pitcher. Besides, the desire he’s stating is really just a rhetorical device at this point, followed as it always has been by the acknowledgement of the nature of the game.

Of course, the nature of the game also holds that Arrieta could very well stay with the Cubs for another season, should the team extend him a qualifying offer (a yet-to-be-determined mean of the to 125 salaries in MLB). That probably only becomes a viable option for him if we don’t see too many more performances like last night, though, so I’d still bank on some team offering him more in a deal that runs 3-5 years or so.

It certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the Cubs to have Arrieta around another year at roughly $18 million, although we’re right back in this spot next year in that scenario. And him actually wanting to accept that is probably only made possible by a rough second half. The ideal outcome, outside of Arrieta taking a mid-rotation-type deal for just a few years to stick around, is probably to have him turn down the QO. That would give the Cubs an additional draft pick and the ability to pursue Cobb, Chatwood, or another younger arm.

The QO system got a little more complex with the advent of the new CBA, tied as it is to financial status of the teams involved and the amount of the contract given to the player. Because the Cubs don’t receive revenue sharing, though, Arrieta’s future contract with another team (should he turn down a QO) would not actually impact them. They would receive a pick after Competitive Balance Round B (which comes after Round 2) no matter how much he signs for.

This is all a really fluid situation that won’t find resolution until after the season, but how Arrieta pitches over the next couple of months will give us a much better idea of what will happen this winter and beyond.

This is fun

The Cubs have pushed 19 men across the plate in their first two games of the second half, many on the strength of eight home runs. It’s almost as if the time off really did do them good or something. I know, I know, it’s too early to go saying things like that at this point. But this team sure does look like the one we were expecting when the season opened up.

What was really nice to see Saturday was that nine of the Cubs’ 10 runs were scored with two outs, which is the type of situational hitting we hadn’t seen enough of in the first half. In fact, the only run that wasn’t scored with two down was the first they scored on Albert Almora Jr.’s home run on the first pitch of the 3rd inning.

The only really frustrating moment came in the 9th inning, when Eddie Butler entered to close out the blowout win. Not that it impacted the game or anything, it just reinforced my objection to carrying a reliever who walks a lot of guys and rarely strikes an out. But hey, scoring 10 runs makes that a moot point.

“Today was more fun,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “That’s what I’m waiting to see or hear.”

More news and notes

  • Jose Quintana gets his first Cubs start this afternoon
  • Cubs phenom prospect Jose Albertos went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits with 4 K’s and 2 BB
  • There’s much more going on, but I’m short on time
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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and lead writer for Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana’s foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan’s greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College. You can follow him on Twitter @DEvanAltman.

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