Editor's note: This story was originally published on Oct. 10.
CHICAGO -- He became a household name in 2015, compiling the best second half of a season by a starting pitcher in baseball history on his way to the NL Cy Young Award.
Now Chicago Cubs righty Jake Arrieta might be down to his final days in a Cubs uniform, as he is set to become a free agent after this postseason. Before that happens, he’ll take the mound for at least one more start in Chicago, on Wednesday in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
“It's going to be special, that's for sure,” Arrieta said before his start in the NL Division Series. “This entire year has been incredible. Being able to get to the postseason three years in a row in this organization ... from where we came when I got over here in 2013 has been tremendous, and I've met some incredible people. I was welcomed in this organization from the get-go, and, you know, I'm very thankful for Jed [Hoyer] and Theo [Epstein] bringing me over here to give me another opportunity to revamp my career.”
The Cubs rescued Arrieta from Baltimore in a midseason deal in 2013 and allowed him to return to his unique style of delivering the ball across his body. The results have been mind-boggling. Arrieta backed up his Cy Young season with an 18-win affair in 2016 and helped the Cubs to a World Series title while throwing two no-hitters along the way. If the end is indeed near, he made the most of his time in Chicago.
“Jake worked so hard and helped himself improve in so many ways. It rubbed off on his teammates and the organization as a whole,” team president Theo Epstein said. “He really did uplift the organization as he personally made himself better. That’s a tribute to him.”
Arrieta’s impact began with his training regimen, which included everything from Pilates to lifting free weights. Other players followed along. Arrieta even had an impact on how the Cubs’ new clubhouse was designed, and he encouraged a healthy diet both at the park and away from the field. He became the model athlete, even posing naked for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue.
“He’s a great pitcher who always exudes confidence when he’s on the hill, and I think he elevated the confidence in his teammates, too,” Epstein said. “That did a lot for the organization.”
Is it over for Arrieta and the Cubs? Both sides say they’re open to an extension, but there has been no movement. And between the pitcher’s assertion that someone will pay top dollar and the fact that Scott Boras is his agent, it’s doubtful that a hometown discount and contract signing in Chicago are in Arrieta's future.
“We’ve talked about all that a little bit, but we’re so absorbed in what we’re doing right now, it hasn’t come up that much,” Arrieta's teammate and good friend Tommy La Stella said.
Arrieta has been more concerned with getting healthy after he injured his hamstring in early September. He came back too soon, had a “slight setback” and hasn’t pitched in two weeks.
“I've been able to throw a few really quality sides,” Arrieta said. “Timing is really good. The stuff is good. So the arm strength hasn't been affected, and if there's any effect there, I think it's in a positive way. You know, just kind of giving it a breather, not throwing for a few days, and obviously the hamstring, you know, benefited from that as well. ... So I think it could have been a blessing in disguise for us.”
The time off probably won’t cost Arrieta any money, but he might be able to make a few more dollars with another solid postseason showing. He was dominant in his 2015 playoff debut, shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL wild-card game, and he topped off his October/November résumé with a Game 6 win in the World Series last fall.
Can he do it again?
“That’s the plan,” he said. “Kind of validating my career as an elite starter and getting to the postseason multiple times has been great. A couple no-hitters. The list goes on and on. Experiencing all that with some awesome teammates has meant the world to me. I want to do that some more this postseason.”
But as he pitches, Arrieta will take a look around. His manager, Joe Maddon, often talks of being present, appreciating the moment and letting things slow down. With days -- or, at most, weeks -- likely left in his Cubs career, the 31-year-old won’t lose sight of it all.
“Just trying to take everything in,” Arrieta said. “Look around a little bit more. Trying to, you know, kind of capture some mental images of Wrigley and the fan base and my teammates and just try and remember as much as I can about these last couple weeks. If it's my last time in this uniform, I’m going to make the most of it.
“It’s kind of sad that it could end, but, man, did I enjoy it, and I feel like I maxed out my time here.”