CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Jake Arrieta put on a red No. 49 Philadelphia Phillies jersey for the first time and sent a message to his new teammates and fans.
“We’re going to promise a fight,” Arrieta said Tuesday, a day after the ace righty finalized a $75 million, three-year contract that could be worth up to $135 million over five seasons. “We’re going to have conviction and we’re going to fight and we’re going to win.”
The Phillies haven’t had a winning season since 2011, when they won their fifth straight NL East title. But the addition of Arrieta signals the end of a long, arduous rebuilding process.
“We’re serious about winning and we’re going to do what it takes to win,” co-owner John Middleton said.
Arrieta is confident a team that won only 66 games last year is poised to contend under first-year manager Gabe Kapler. The Phillies spent big in free agency, signing slugger Carlos Santana and relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. They have a solid core of young hitters and their rotation could be formidable with Aaron Nola and Arrieta at the top.
“I knew this was an organization that was hungry to win,” Arrieta said. “A rebuild doesn’t mean you can’t win now. I intend to come in here and win right away.”
The onetime TCU standout joined the Chicago Cubs in a trade from Baltimore in 2013 during a 66-96 season. The Cubs won 73 games in 2014 and were considered a year or two away from contention when Joe Maddon took over as manager in 2015.
They won 97 games and reached the NL championship series that year with Arrieta leading the way. He was 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and earned the NL Cy Young Award.
The Cubs won the World Series the following season, ending a 108-year championship drought. Arrieta was 2-0 in the seven-game series against Cleveland.
“I’m here to not only lead by example but to help the guys take that next step,” Arrieta said.
Several of those guys gathered in the room to watch Arrieta’s introductory news conference, including Santana, Hunter and slugger Rhys Hoskins.
“Anytime you get a chance to add someone of that caliber, he’s done it at the highest level in the World Series, he knows how to win, I’m excited,” Hoskins said. “I’m glad I don’t have to face him. It’s going to pay dividends throughout the whole organization.”
Arrieta earned $15,637,500 last year in a one-year contract and many had predicted a deal with more guaranteed years.
“It’s a business. Am I upset of frustrated? Absolutely not,” Arrieta said. “Did it take longer than I would’ve liked? Maybe. But I’m here now.”
Arrieta wasn’t expected to remain available this long, but the market has changed significantly. Alex Cobb, Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday, Melky Cabrera, Mark Reynolds and Greg Holland are among the players still unsigned.
“In a market place where you have 30 boats in the blue lake of free agency and maybe as many as 12 are no longer fishing and the other five have determined that the gas tax is too great, we’re left with a free-agent model that is non-competitive,” said Scott Boras, Arrieta’s agent. “All the better for those who choose to be competitive but certainly it creates an irregularity in the system.”
Middleton said he circled Arrieta’s name as a potential target a few years ago and hoped the Phillies would be in the position to land a top-tier player. They’re expected to make a strong push for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado next offseason. Both players are in the final year of their contracts.
General manager Matt Klentak praised the organization’s “incredible family culture” and Kapler for promoting a “loose, comfortable environment” that allows the team to attract big-time players.
“This is a special situation for me,” Arrieta said. “It took a long time to develop. We’re here now. It’s a tremendous honor and I look forward to making this organization proud.”