Arrieta, 34, signed a $6 million contract with the team he helped win the world championship and which is now led by former receiver David Ross.
“Playing the role of the manager who got one of my slappers is pretty cool,” Arrieta said in a video interview with reporters on Saturday. “This is the place I wanted to be. The last two days here have felt good.
Arrieta played for the Cubs from 2013 to 2017, winning the Cy Young award in 2015, a Wild Card game that season and a World Series ring the following year. Along the way, he pitched two innings without giving up a run and raised his game to the same level as the best in baseball.
But after signing with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2018, his production – and his health – declined. His ERA dropped from 3.96 in 2018 to 4.64 in 2019 and then to 5.08 in 2020. He used to have a meniscus and bone spur problem in Philadelphia, but he says he’s healthy now.
“There’s always something to prove,” Arrieta said. “Not that it’s in a negative sense. It’s really about proving that I can perform at a high level.” At the level I expect. The last three years have not lived up to my expectations.
The Cubs hoped to show the same, which they did when Arrieta came out of Baltimore as a regular pitcher in a mid-season trade in 2013. Some faces within the organization changed, but many stayed, giving Arrieta some security upon her return.
“I would never want anyone to think that I’m incapabl….e of filling out the form…. But isn’t it a little different here in Chicago?” said Arrieta. “Of course it is. The fact that I can wear this jersey, that I can carry the 49ers to Wrigley Field, that will be really special.”
Ross added, “Jake is still the best pitcher for the rotation. Sometimes returning to coaches and familiar places can really take your game to the next level.”
Arrieta played for teams in his hometown of Austin, Texas, during the winter, but he remained in close contact with the Cubs during the process of becoming a free agent. After the team began cutting salaries – including that of Yu Darvish, the senior – Arrieta was unsure if there was room for him.
“At first I thought it was less likely because these things have happened before,” says Arrieta. “But their need to pitch is there.
“The market for free agents has been unusual. Unlike what we’ve seen in the past. Baseball is in a strange place. Teams have had to change their approach to certain aspects of the game, and rightly so [because of financial problems].
Arrieta returns to Chicago as a more experienced leader. He is now trying to pass on all his wisdom to younger pitchers, suggesting that he has already spent a lot of time with 25-year-old Adber Alzolei.
“It comes with the territory,” Arrieta said. “You get to a point in your career where you have to perform not only on the field, but also off the field. I’m very proud of that.
“He understands the presence he has,” Mr. Ross said.
Arrieta is sure to get a warm welcome from Cubs fans as he looks back on the glory years, even though the team is currently in transition. Arrieta wants to show them that he is the man they remember, the one who dominated the league on his way to Cy Young and the championship.
“I have a lot left in the tank,” Arrieta said. “I still have a lot to do in this game. I can’t wait for it to happen again in a Cubs jersey”.
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