Which suitor needs Arrieta the most?

March 6th, 2018

Tuesday was 's 32nd birthday, and the right-hander spent it as a free agent.
A National League Cy Young Award winner in 2015 and an All-Star and World Series champion in '16, Arrieta's performance declined last season, but he still posted a 3.53 ERA across 30 starts for the Cubs. His time on the open market is dragging on well into Spring Training, and with  signing with the Cubs, Arrieta's former team, that leaves Arrieta as the top pitcher still available.
So, where should Arrieta land? He likely would upgrade every MLB rotation, but of course, not every club is a realistic option. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman recently listed the righty's seven most likely landing spots as (in alphabetical order): the Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Nationals, Orioles, Phillies and Twins.
According to FanGraphs, Arrieta is projected for a 3.94 ERA across 171 innings, while producing roughly 3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Based on that, as well as FanGraphs' projected standings, here is a look at which of those seven teams would stand to gain the most by signing Arrieta.
1. Brewers
Projected record: 78-84
The Brew Crew has solid rotation depth, but not much certainty. With Jimmy Nelson recovering from shoulder surgery, Milwaukee has signed veterans ,  and . The latter two -- who both had ERAs above 5.50 last year -- are competing with less experienced arms (, , and ) for the last two spots.
Adding Arrieta would give the club a projected boost of about two wins, and that's no small thing. A year after missing out on the postseason by one game, the Brewers sit four behind the Giants for the second NL Wild Card berth in FanGraphs' projected standings -- with the Mets, D-backs and Rockies sandwiched in between. And given that Milwaukee has added and to a roster that won 86 games in 2017, it's reasonable to believe those numbers undersell the team's chances.

2. Twins
Projected record: 82-80
They missed out on Darvish, but they did swing a trade with the Rays for Jake Odorizzi. Still, the Twins won't have (finger injury) or (coming back from Tommy John surgery) for the beginning of the season, leaving the rotation with plenty of question marks.
Arrieta would project as about a two-win upgrade over the combination of veteran rebound candidates Phil Hughes and  and youngster . That could make an enormous difference for Minnesota, which is slated to be in the thick of the American League Wild Card race, close behind the Blue Jays (87-75) and Angels (84-78) for the second berth.
3. Cardinals
Projected record: 87-75
The final three rotation jobs are set to go to (4.81 ERA from 2016-17), (less than 100 MLB innings) and (pitched in Japan from 2015-17). St. Louis also has some other exciting young arms in reserve, but there is still plenty of uncertainty.
Even if Arrieta provides only a one-win bump, as projected, the Cardinals know all too well how much difference that can make. St. Louis fell one win short of the postseason in 2016 and came up four victories shy last year, and the franchise hasn't missed the playoffs three straight times since 1997-99. So although the Redbirds sit a projected seven games behind the Cubs in the NL Central and five ahead of the Giants for the first Wild Card spot, there should be plenty of incentive to improve.

4. Phillies
Projected record: 74-88
Going by those numbers, the Phillies are eight games out of a postseason spot in 2018, with six clubs ahead of them for a shot at the NL Wild Card Game. If that's the case, Arrieta wouldn't make much of an on-field difference. So for a match to make sense, the youthful Phillies either need to believe they are closer to contention than the projections indicate, or that Arrieta can continue to play a crucial role in '19 and beyond.
With that said, Arrieta would be expected to provide an increase of about two wins over Philly's parade of unproven fifth-starter candidates, which includes Zach Eflin, and . The question is whether those additional wins are worth pursuing at this point.
5. Nationals
Projected record: 90-72
It's not just the Nats' history with Scott Boras clients that make them a possible Arrieta destination. While Washington has a strong top four led by Max Scherzer and , the fifth spot is up in the air. The leading candidate, A.J. Cole, has yet to establish himself in parts of three big league seasons. has pitched 15 1/3 innings in the Majors and journeyman posted a 5.07 ERA in 13 starts with the Nats a year ago.
Those three are projected for about 1 WAR combined over a full season's worth of starts, so Arrieta certainly would provide a boost. But with the Nats a projected nine games ahead of the Mets in the NL East, it might not matter much -- at least until Washington encounters its nemesis, the NL Division Series.

6. Orioles
Projected record: 75-87
While the O's are pegged for a fifth-place finish -- nine games out of a Wild Card spot -- Buck Showalter's club has greatly exceeded expectations to reach the postseason in three of the past six years. If Baltimore assumes it is set up to reestablish itself as a surprise contender in Manny Machado's final campaign before free agency, then the incentive is there for another win-now move.
There is little doubt the need exists for an Arrieta reunion. Even if Chris Tillman rebounds successfully and maintains his 2017 performance, that leaves one rotation spot for either , Rule 5 pick , Mike Wright Jr. or , who have combined for fewer than 30 big league starts. None is projected for more than 0.5 WAR in 2018.
7. Dodgers
Projected record: 94-68
Their projected division lead (12 games) is the second largest in MLB, behind only the Astros, so any move for Arrieta would mostly be about procuring insurance and gearing up for another run at the World Series.
Meanwhile, the rotation is in better shape than most, as even the current No. 5 starter () is projected for nearly 2 WAR. Yet, it's worth noting that each of the five starters spent time on the disabled list a year ago and carry some durability questions into 2018.