No one’s ever accused Jake Arrieta of being overly humble, and that cocksure attitude was on full display Saturday as the Cubs held their first full-squad workout of the spring. His willingness to rise to the occasion and revel in pressure is what led the Cubs to the 2015 Wild Card victory in Pittsburgh that officially signaled their arrival as a contender, but it may also have facilitated his departure from the team following the 2017 season.
Arrieta wanted to be paid like an ace, so that was the primary reason for his decision to test free agency. He may have also been motivated by the desire to prove himself as an elite pitcher separate from the Cubs after having transformed into a Cy Young winner following his trade from Baltimore. Arrieta still has something to prove after three disappointing seasons in Philly, which is why he’s back in Chicago.
“The last three years weren’t to my expectations,” Arrieta told Russell Dorsey and other reporters. “I had to deal with several physical setbacks — a meniscus that I pitched through all of ’18, which was tough, but didn’t want to have surgery during the season. Then in ’19, ultimately had to have bone spurs taken out of my elbow again. So there were some slight physical limitations.
“Having said that, I just didn’t perform the way I was capable of. But I have a lot left in the tank. I have a lot to still accomplish in this game. And I’m excited that it’s gonna happen in this Cubs uniform again.”
While he eschewed the notion that he wouldn’t be able to get the most out of himself with another team, Arrieta admitted that there’s something different about pitching at Wrigley. That’s why he took a little less money to come back and it’s why he feels the Cubs have a chance to be special in spite of some of the other changes to the roster this winter.
“From everything I’ve seen, there’s no reason that we can’t succeed at the highest level again,” the righty said. “Regardless of getting rid of a couple guys, or not re-signing a guy, the talent’s still here. The mindset has to be just that.”
Arrieta has already resumed his former role as a vocal team leader, taking Adbert Alzolay under his wing during a recent bullpen session. Some Cubs fans may take this as heresy, but Arrieta might be a better fit in that regard than Jon Lester, who was more the kind of quiet leader who preferred to offer advice when he was solicited for it.
Jake Arrieta: assistant pitching coach?
Here he is talking with Tommy Hottovy as they watched Adbert Alzolay's bullpen today. Arrieta stuck around after he threw to watch Alzolay and provide a few pointers. pic.twitter.com/SjYgfJrkvt
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) February 19, 2021
“That’s the kind of teammate Jake was when I was here,” Ross said. “That hasn’t changed; he’s still that same guy. I think there’s a willingness from him to want to impact guys and teach and really pass along a lot of experience.”
It obviously takes a lot more than some big talk to get things done once the games start, but Arrieta is the kind of teammate who can get other players feeling like they could run through a brick wall. Ross is the same way as a manager, so maybe this combination can shake off the malaise that seems to have settled over the Cubs like a persistent rain cloud these past two or three seasons.