McKnight: Cubs can get even better in the future

  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta delivers during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Chicago. The Cubs won 2-0.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta delivers during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Chicago. The Cubs won 2-0.

 
Updated 9/12/2015 2:00 PM

Now is the time when every game, every pitch matters. The now is what's important. The Plan has finally come to fruition and a playoff spot is well within reach.

Regardless, permit me to look to the future, briefly.

 

After all, The Plan isn't about one run at the playoffs -- it's about sustained success. So, for just a second, let's look farther into the future and further into The Plan.

While Jake Arrieta dazzles, there are reports (and have been for years) that the Cubs will spend big in free agency on an arm this offseason. Johnny Cueto, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Kazmir, Mat Latos and Mike Leake should all be on the market. With any luck, Zack Greinke could be out there, too.

But what to do with the "ace" they have? With two season of arbitration left, Arrieta won't be eligible for free agency until 2018. He'll enter that season at age 32. He's an almost unprecedented case -- a starter reaching his peak in his late 20s, with so much team control left. It's not at all out of the question that Arrieta has pitched himself into the five-year, $100 million contract range. That buys out three years of free agency and keeps him financially stable late in his career. Still, $20 million per year could end up being a steal; Price got $19.75 million in his final year of arbitration last offseason and Arrieta is having a better 2015 than Price's 2014.

Arrieta is having a better year than a lot of people. Ever.

After yet another brilliant start Friday, the folks over at Elias let everyone know that with his run of eight starts with a 0.46 ERA Arrieta joined Bob Gibson as the only two pitchers with a sub-0.50 ERA over eight straight starts. That's since 1913 -- literally the year earned runs were invented.

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So perhaps $20 million per year might not be enough.

Then there's center field. Dexter Fowler, by and large, has been terrific. He's a free agent after 2015 and has likely played himself into a big-money, three- or four-year deal. The likelier path here is to throw Fowler a qualifying offer. If he's on the team for 2016 at around $15 or $16 million, it's understandable. If he's locked up, it blocks the path for a few outfield prospects (Albert Almora for one) in 2017 and on.

While the Cubs love the versatility given to them by Kyle Schwarber playing both catcher and left field, it's worth wondering whether moving Miguel Montero after the season might help save a few dollars. If Schwarber can be the defensive catcher the Cubs promise he can be, Montero could be expendable.

While the bottom line has to be watched, it's made movable by the roster's own flexibility. With so many positional solutions, it makes it easier to see the Cubs clearing a path to add one of the big names to a rotation that already features Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top.

First thing's first, however. Pay Arrieta his money.

• Connor McKnight can be heard regularly on WGN 720-AM. He hosts the weekly sports show, The Beat, Saturdays from 3-7 p.m. Follow him on Twitter @McKnight_WGN

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