Arrieta, Cubs have biggest gap in arbitration at $5.5M

Josh Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays are heading to arbitration for the second straight year, but are not too far apart in terms of monetary terms. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have come to an agreement with six others.

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs exchanged arbitration proposals with NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta on Friday, and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he is confident the sides will reach an agreement before a potential hearing despite the huge difference in the offers.

Arrieta is asking for $13 million. The team countered at $7.5 million. It is the largest gap among the 35 players remaining in the arbitration process.

"I know the spread seems big, but the filing numbers don’t always represent the offers, and there’s kind of an art to the filing numbers," Epstein said. "You try to massage the midpoint to a number that makes a lot of sense.

"I think, you know, in this case, if you focus on the spread, you’re kind of missing the story, which is that I think it provides a lot of room for further discussion," he said.

Arrieta, who turns 30 in March and is represented by Scott Boras, had a breakout season last year, helping the Cubs to an NL wild card. He finished with a 22-6 record and a 1.77 ERA, easily cruising past most of his previous career highs.

Arrieta made $3,630,000 for the 2015 season. Epstein left open the possibility of a long-term deal, but said he wasn’t going to talk about if publicly.

"If we go to a hearing, we go to a hearing. We wouldn’t go in and pick holes in Jake Arrieta’s performance as a Cub," a chuckling Epstein said. "That’s for sure. We think he had an historic season, we think he deserves a huge raise and we’re really proud of him."

While the Cubs exchanged numbers with Arrieta, they announced one-year deals with outfielder Chris Coghlan ($4.8 million) and relievers Pedro Strop ($4.4 million), Hector Rondon ($4.2 million), Travis Wood ($6,170,000), Adam Warren ($1.7 million) and Justin Grimm ($1,275,000), avoiding arbitration.

Epstein himself is in the final year of a five-year contract, but said he felt the players should be taken care of before his deal is addressed with owner Tom Ricketts.

"Status quo in that we’re completely on the same page," Epstein said on the first day of the Cubs’ annual fan convention. "We just haven’t gotten around to hammering out an actual contract. Again, I only really think about it when you guys ask and I see myself as staying in the exact same role for a long time."

The Cubs won 97 games last season and made it to the NL Championship Series, where they were swept by the New York Mets. After signing pitcher John Lackey, utilityman Ben Zobrist and outfielder Jason Heyward over the winter, they begin this year as one of the favourites to make it to the World Series.

It’s also the second season in Chicago for left-hander Jon Lester, who signed a $155 million, six-year contract last winter, and then got off to a slow start after he said he tried to do too much during spring training.

"Last year I felt like I needed to do a little bit more at certain times than I’m used to," Lester said, "just because of everything that comes with what was going on last year. I feel like this year I can go out and just do my normal routine and not have to worry about getting off to a good start in spring training."