Weeks of speculation about whether Jake Arrieta would be the latest Scott Boras client to land with the Washington Nationals ended Sunday evening with reports the right-hander had agreed to a three-year deal worth $75 million with the Philadelphia Phillies. The 32-year-old will have a new home, pending a physical, and while it will be in the NL East, as most expected, it will not be on South Capitol Street.
Arrieta joins a budding Phillies team that suddenly feels like a sleeper playoff contender, and always felt likely to be a pest for the Nationals. He provides veteran leadership and clout to what had been a rebuilding roster, but now looks like a team preparing to make a run this season before pouncing on next winter’s vaunted free agent class.
Arrieta was long considered the main pitching prize of this strange and confounding free agent market, one of a handful of premier starters available. He was one of three top-tier types that began this week without jobs. Lance Lynn signed a one-year deal with the Twins on Saturday. Arrieta found his job Sunday. Alex Cobb, most recently of the Tampa Bay Rays, could be the next to find a home. To this point in the spring, the Nationals have not made any indications of pursuing him, though they had checked in on Arrieta.
The Nationals could use a fifth starter. A.J. Cole currently fits in that role, though Erick Fedde could also contend for that spot, and his stuff looked particularly good in his outing Saturday against the Astros. His velocity is back after a late-season dip, and he seems to be benefiting from the more reliable schedule he is finding in the rotation. The Nationals tried to move him to the bullpen midway through last season, then build him back up to starting strength. He did not take to the changes well.
Regardless, with Gio Gonzalez due to hit free agency next winter, and Cole and Fedde vying for that fifth spot, the Nationals could benefit from acquiring outside help for the back of their rotation. Speculation swirled around Lynn, who is familiar with new Nationals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist from their days in St. Louis. More speculation followed Arrieta, who seemed a good bet follow Rafael Soriano, Matt Wieters and others as big name free agents represented by Boras who found homes in D.C. The Nationals did make an offer to Arrieta, whose demands were too high at the time. Obviously, they never found a middle ground, though it seemed the Nationals never prioritized him, either.
Now, they can either find rotation help via trade, or wait out the season and see if they still need starting help at the trade deadline in July. If Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Gonzalez stay healthy, the Nationals can probably afford to keep Cole, Edwin Jackson, or Fedde in that fifth spot in the rotation. If not, they will likely have to hunt for a starter to fill the void. In the meantime, they can move forward without wondering whether another Boras client might soon be on the way — and begin to deal with the fact that this particular Boras client will face them a few times a year, as the ace of the staff of the steadily improving Phillies.