Bad contracts are something that create nightmares for general managers. They become bludgeons with which fans and media alike use to hammer away at their credibility. There may not be a salary cap in baseball – which would make contracts extra important – but they’re still a big factor when evaluating a GM.
As the Phillies head into the All Star break, it is hard to say that the team has not under-performed. Middleton and company spent a-lot of money to supposedly revamp this team, at least hitting wise. When it comes to pitching, the Phillies brass decided to roll with in-house options and decided not to upgrade. It was envisioned that Nola would be Nola, that one of Eflin, Pivetta or Velasquez would stabilize and finally, that Jake Arrieta would live up to his contract. Nola has been dominant lately and Eflin has had his moments, but other than that, the starting rotation has under-performed in a huge way. The Phillies are actually on pace to set Major League records for home-runs allowed, so chalking it up to “under-performance” might be kind.
If there is a universal complaint among Phillies fans, it seems to be that the Jake Arrieta contract has been an unmitigated disaster. When Arrieta initially signed his 3-year contract worth $75 million (technically two but including a third year player option), it was expected that he would at least be an upgrade over in house options. Though his velocity and K/9 rates had been dropping towards the end of his Cubs tenure, Arrieta was still expected to be at least a #3 and was paid accordingly.
Sadly for the Phillies, he looked like a #4 for much of last year and as we approach the All Star break in 2019, Arrieta doesn’t even look like he belongs on an MLB roster.
Timing Is Important When Evaluating This Contract
So it goes without saying that the Arrieta contract is bad, but is it really this absolute disaster fans are making it out to be? When factoring in prior Phillies teams, length of the deal and even structure, the contract doesn’t look that bad.
When Jake Arrieta signed with the Phillies, it was at the end of a long free agent process that didn’t see him sign until very late. It seemed as though the Phillies – who had been trotting out rotations of unknowns in years prior – weren’t in on Arrieta until it became clear that they could make a run at him. But those circumstances are exactly what makes signing Arrieta not terrible in the long run.
Prior to the 2017 season, the Phillies rotation consisted of primarily young pitchers that the team hoped could develop and then Aaron Nola, whose ceiling was projected as a #2. During the rebuilding years starts were given to David Buchanan, Severino Gonzalez, Chad Billingsley and Seaon O’Sullivan. Yeah, we lived through that.
A stabilizing, veteran starter seemed to be one of this team’s biggest needs, at least on paper. At the time though, the Phillies hadn’t been signing free agents in years. They were rightfully thought of as a rebuilding, mediocre team that no free agent would want to sign with. The Arrieta and Carlos Santana contracts changed that.
While neither did (or have done) much in Phillies uniforms, these two contracts more or less signified that the Phillies were taking a step forward. Were they true contenders in 2017? No, but they made noise and had people paying attention to the Phillies for the first time in years, both nationally and locally. Although Arrieta hasn’t panned out, his contract symbolized that the Phillies had entered a new age and were willing to spend. Signifying this was crucial to setting the table for the 2018 off-season.
Plus, the Arrieta contract isn’t an anchor by any stretch. Does it suck to watch Arrieta get $25 million for Enyel De Los Santos level production? Sure, but the deal is short term and front-loaded. He’s owed roughly 8 million over the course of this current season and has a player option for another year at 20. Yes it’s bad, but Jake Arrieta will be off the books in no time.
It’s OK To Be Mad At Klentak, But The Arrieta Contract Should Not Be A Sticking Point
At the end of the day, Matt Klentak and the Phillies deserve to be criticized for the stunning lack of depth in regards to pitching. The front office way overestimated the contributions they would be getting from Pivetta, Eflin and Vinnie V and as a result, the rotation is historically bad. It’s no different in the bullpen, where a few injuries was all it took to thoroughly deplete it.
Matt Klentak deserves blame for many things, but the Jake Arrieta contract isn’t one of them. Maybe he overpaid, but the signing of Arrieta was more of a signal to other teams than anything else. Were other clubs skeptical? They were. Should that have been a sign? Maybe, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.
Klentak may have messed up, but there is still time to right the ship. This team has more than one hole but the addition of an arm like Madison Bumgarner could do wonders. Couple that with one of Eflin or Pivetta actually stabilizing and the rotation will be somewhat reliable. If that happens, Jake Arrieta and his struggles will quickly become an afterthought, assuming he’s even pitching. He recently revealed that he’s been suffering from a bone spur that will require surgery eventually.
So just relax people. Arrieta will be off the books after next season, maybe sooner if the Phillies find an opportunity to ship him off while eating the bulk of his contract. He will be free to put dents in skulls soon enough, so just tough it out. If we survived the 2014 Eagles season, we can survive this.