CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tommy Hunter's biggest pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies came before he even took the mound for his new team.
Since he signed a two-year deal in December, the reliever has been pushing Jake Arrieta to follow him to Philadelphia. Mission accomplished.
Arrieta and the Phillies agreed Sunday to a $75 million, three-year contract, a deal that could be worth up to $135 million over five seasons, three people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was pending a successful physical.
"I've been on the phone with him this whole entire offseason to see if it can work out," Hunter said Monday. "I was coming hard. It's not up to you as a player or a friend. Ultimately it's up to the people in charge to get this done and they did it."
Hunter and Arrieta have been friends since their college days. They spent four years together in Baltimore and have remained close. Hunter said their wives have been texting each other regularly about places to live.
"He's a competitor and he brings it every day and the way he goes about playing baseball is going to teach a lot of guys there's a lot of different ways to being successful and he's an example of that," Hunter said. "He's going to take pressure off the younger guys. He's a guy you can talk to. He's been through the lowest of lows and he's won a Cy Young and he's a guy who players can relate to and strive to be like."
Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Chicago Cubs and helped them win the World Series the next season, going 2-0 in a seven-game series against the Indians. He was 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA last year.
Arrieta was 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA in five seasons in Chicago after starting his career in Baltimore. He struggled with the Orioles — 20-25, 5.46 ERA — but transformed himself into one of the top pitchers in the majors. Phillies president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak worked for the Orioles when Arrieta pitched at Camden Yards.
The Phillies haven't had a winning season since 2011, but have upgraded their roster by adding veteran slugger Carlos Santana, Hunter, 2017 All-Star reliever Pat Neshek and now Arrieta.
"The team could've made a run without him," Hunter said. "I don't want to put that burden or that weight on one person to say one guy is going to transform an organization or a team. If you ask him if there's anybody that can do it, it'd be him. He's a confident guy. You have to be to pitch at the level he's pitched the last few years, to walk around with that swag, and it's going to take a lot of pressure off a lot of people having him in here."
Arrieta gets $30 million this year, $25 million in 2019 and $20 million in 2020. Arrieta has the right to terminate the deal after the 2019 season and become a free agent again, but the Phillies can void that right if they exercise club options for 2021 and 2022 at $20 million annually.
The price of both options can increase by up to $5 million based on starts in both 2018 and 2019: $1 million for 25 each year, and $500,000 each for 27, 29 and 31.
The option prices would increase to $28 million if he is among the top five in Cy Young Award voting in 2018 or 2019, and to $30 million if he is among the top three in either year.
Arrieta will join Aaron Nola atop the Phillies' rotation on a team that finished last in the NL East. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are expected to be in the rotation and Nick Pivetta is the leading candidate for the fifth spot. The team has a slew of young pitchers who could fill in.
"He makes us a lot better," Eickhoff said. "We want to win now. What a competitor, what a person, what a pitcher to learn from. He's done a lot in the game. It'll be pretty special to interact with him.