CHICAGO — Former Cy Young winner
Arrieta, 34, signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the team he helped to a World Series title and will now be managed by his former catcher, David Ross.
“To play for a manager that caught one of my no-hitters is pretty cool,” Arrieta said in a Saturday video call with reporters. “This is where I wanted to be. The last few days here, it just feels right.”
Arrieta previously pitched for the Cubs from 2013-2017, winning the Cy Young award in 2015, the wild-card game that same season and a World Series ring the next year. Along the way, he threw two no-hitters, elevating his game to be among the best in baseball.
But after signing a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2018, his production — and health — went south. His ERA climbed from 3.96 in 2018 to 4.64 in 2019 and then to 5.08 in 2020. He dealt with a meniscus issue and bone spurs in Philadelphia but said he is healthy now.
“There’s always things to prove,” Arrieta said. “Not that it’s in a negative way. It’s really just to prove I’m capable of performing at a high level. The level I expect to perform at. The last three years weren’t to my expectations.”
The Cubs hoped to unlock the same things they did when Arrieta came over from Baltimore as an ordinary pitcher in a mid-season trade in 2013. Some faces in the organization have changed, but many remain, giving Arrieta a level of comfort in his return.
“I would never want to make it seem like I’m not capable of performing in — fill in the blank — but is it a little bit different here in Chicago?” Arrieta said. “Of course. Just being able to put that uniform on, wearing 49 again in Wrigley Field, is going to be pretty special.”
Ross added: “Jake is still a top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher. Sometimes getting back to familiar coaches, familiar places can really elevate your game.”
Arrieta threw for teams in his hometown of Austin, Texas, during the winter but kept in close contact with the Cubs throughout the free-agent process. After the team began shedding salary — including the trade of starter Yu Darvish — Arrieta wasn’t sure if there would be room for him.
“At first I thought it was less likely as those things started to happen,” Arrieta explained. “[But] their need for pitching is there.
“It was an unusual free-agent market. Unlike one we’ve seen in the past. Baseball is in a weird spot. Teams have had to change the way they approach certain aspects of the game and rightly so [due to financial concerns].”
Arrieta returns to Chicago as a more experienced leader. He’s already attempting to impart his wisdom to the younger pitchers, indicating he’s spent a lot of time already with 25-year-old Adbert Alzolay.
“It comes with the territory,” Arrieta said. “You get to a point in your career where you’re expected to perform not only on the field but off the field. I take great pride in that.”
“He understands the presence he has,” Ross said.
Arrieta is sure to get a warm welcome from Cubs fans as he’s a reminder of their glory years, even though the team might be in a bit of a transition right now. Arrieta is out to show them he’s the guy they remember dominating the competition en route to a Cy Young and a championship.
“I have a lot in the tank,” Arrieta said. “I have a lot to still accomplish in this game. I’m excited it’s going to happen in this Cubs uniform again.”