Jake Arrieta spent his first day in a Phillies uniform Tuesday.
The star pitcher already felt right at home.
The Phillies signed Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract this past weekend. The former Chicago Cubs standout and Cy Young Award winner met the media at the Phillies spring training in Clearwater, Florida on Tuesday morning.
Arrieta’s presence means the rebuilding Phillies, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, are ready to win now.
“I knew this is an organization that is hungry to win,” Arrieta told reporters in Florida. “There’s no reason this organization can’t get back to the winning ways it had several years ago. I feel like we’re not far away. A rebuild is a loose term. A rebuild doesn’t mean you can’t win now. I intend to come in here and win right away.”
Arrieta is familiar with Phillies management. He made his big-league debut in 2010 with the Baltimore Orioles. Phillies president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak were both part of the Orioles front office back then. Joe Jordan, the Phillies director of player development, was then the Orioles director of amateur scouting. Jordan and the Orioles selected Arrieta in the fifth round of the 2007 draft.
“It’s a tremendous reunion for me,” Arrieta said, “being around a lot of guys that I was fortunate to be with in Baltimore. This is a very special situation for me. It means a lot. It took a long time to develop but thankfully we got to this point.”
In Arrieta, the Phillies signed the offseason’s most prized free agent. It’s probably Philadelphia’s biggest free-agent signing since the club signed pitcher Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million deal in 2010.
Arrieta, 32, was 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA for the Chicago Cubs last season. He struck out 163 in 1681/3 innings. Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award when he finished 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 229 innings. he helped the Cubs transform from a rebuilding team to World Series champions in 2016.
"We're going to promise a fight," Arrieta said. "There's no guarantee you're going to feel good or have your best stuff. But what we can promise is that we're going to have conviction. We're going to fight, and we're going to win at the end of the day."
With what he has achieved, Arrieta immediately becomes the leader of a young Phillies pitching staff. Several players watched Arrieta’s press conference Tuesday morning.
“This is not something you see every day,” Phillies new manager Gabe Kapler said, “players coming into a press conference to support somebody they know is going to help us take those steps forward. This is going to be a pretty perfect marriage. What our players need from Jake and what Jake can bring to our clubhouse.”
The free-agent market developed slowly for Arrieta and most others this offseason. Owners seemed reluctant to spend as they had in the past.
“There were times when it was tough,” Arrieta said, “but I have tremendous confidence and faith in my talent and my ability. I knew regardless of how long it was going to take I was going to sign with an organization.”
The Phillies began talking with Scott Boras, Arrieta’s agent, in November. Talks intensified the past couple of weeks.
“Late Saturday night in to the wee hours of Sunday morning, we got on the phone and put this thing to bed,” Klentak said.
Media reports said Arrieta could opt out of the deal after 2019. The Phillies can void that opt out by extending the deal to 2021 and 2022. The contract with extensions and incentives could be worth as much as $135 million, according to reports.
One concern about Arrieta was a dip in velocity. His fastball averaged 94.3 mph in 2016 and 94.9 in 2015. That velocity was down to 92.6 last season.
Arrieta was 8-7 with a 4.35 ERA before last season’s All Star break. He was 6-3 with a 2.28 ERA after the break. Klentak said the Phillies studied Arrieta’s dip in velocity and were obviously still comfortable enough to sign him.
“You get to a point in your career,” Arrieta said, “where you understand that pitching isn’t all about velocity. I was able to learn from my first-half inconsistencies last year. High velocity or not, I know exactly what I’m doing on the mound. If my velocity does go back to 95 or 96, the league is in a lot of trouble. Obviously velocity is what’s sexy in this game, but there’s a lot of great, great pitchers out there who can pitch without.”
The Phillies open the season March 29 in Atlanta against the Braves. Can Arrieta be ready for opening day? Arrieta said he has been throwing 50 to 65-pitch bullpen sessions every two to three days this month.
“My arm strength is there,” Arrieta said. “My body is in tremendous shape. I feel like we’ll probably sit down and develop a program to get me ready for the opening week of the season because that’s exactly I intend to do.”