Arrieta's back - pitching in Baltimore for first time since one of worst trades in club history - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Arrieta’s back — pitching in Baltimore for first time since one of worst trades in club history

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

It’s been four years since the Orioles traded away pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop (and international bonus slots, of course) to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger.

Without a doubt, that July 2, 2013 trade was the worst in the Dan Duquette regime and, frankly, one of the worst in franchise history (only the Glenn Davis and Reggie Jackson deals were worse, in my opinion).

It officially comes full circle this evening when Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award Winner and 2016 World Series Champion, pitches at Camden Yards for the first time since April 2013.

“It’s a great place to play baseball. I really enjoyed my time here, a lot of great people. The fans here are tremendous,” Arrieta said Friday in the visitors’ clubhouse. “It’s gonna be a fun series, a fun weekend series. I’m looking forward to it and I get to pitch (Saturday), so it’ll be a neat experience.”

These past four years haven’t been a particularly neat experience for the Orioles or Orioles fans when the subject is Arrieta. Twice since the trade, the Orioles have made the playoffs. Twice, they’ve had strong teams that lacked a true ace. They sputtered and went away before making the World Series.

Arrieta, however, has blossomed into what the Orioles hoped he could be when they drafted him in the fifth round in 2007. He just did it elsewhere. In 69 games with the Orioles, Arrieta was 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA. A 4.66 ERA in his rookie year was his high-water mark. With the Cubs, Arrieta is 62-28 with a 2.78 ERA in 116 starts, and that includes a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts this year – which now qualifies as struggling for Arrieta.

I covered the big right-hander for parts of four seasons, and always appreciated his honesty, his lack of excuse making. He was a stand-up guy then, and still is.

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He could have blamed the Orioles for his lack of success and for giving up on him too early, but Arrieta has always taken the absolute high road. He did again Friday, adding that he has thought about what he might have achieved if he had remained an Oriole.

“Yeah, I think about what could have been. But there’s no perfect formula or equation for success at this level, and it just took me quite a while to really figure some things out. It would have been nice to have a better landing here and gain some traction and be here for a long time. And never play for another team,” he said. “But it didn’t work out that way, and things didn’t go so well, and I had the opportunity to be traded and come to this (Cubs) organization and do some really special things. So, while it would have been really cool to stay with one team your whole career, you guys know how things worked out. Underperformed, had an opportunity, they had an opportunity to trade for a starter (Feldman) to try and help them out in the playoffs, and the rest is history.”

Revisionist history says the Orioles blew it with Arrieta — and by coveting Feldman (who had a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts, and then left as a free agent after the Orioles failed to make the 2013 postseason). It’s a fair argument that the Orioles should have been able to develop Arrieta and they didn’t (remember, he was with Triple-A Norfolk, and not the majors, when he was dealt). And Arrieta certainly isn’t the only starting pitcher with a high-ceiling that the club couldn’t help turn the corner. There are plenty of others.

But here’s a shot of reality. Arrieta is also a unique case. There isn’t a litany of starting pitchers who were drafted/signed by the Orioles, failed in Baltimore and went on to be superstar starters elsewhere. You may want to think so, that’s the easy narrative, but it’s not true (Dennis Martinez in the 1980s?) You can make the argument that the Orioles have had trouble developing top starters, but not that they go elsewhere and thrive. So, let’s put that one to rest, shall we?

The thing with Arrieta, though, is that he always had the stuff. But he lost confidence along the way. Maybe because his pitching coach at the time, Rick Adair, had little confidence in him, and Arrieta knew it. Or because Arrieta’s slider/cutter was taken out of his arsenal for health/effectiveness sake.

Or maybe it was just that he was getting his brain bashed in by opposing offenses too frequently, and that has a way to kill anyone’s confidence. If anyone looked like a candidate for the old “change of scenery,” it was Arrieta. And he got it. And ran with it. And that’s fantastic for him.

He may have figured it out here; he may not have. I don’t know.

“It worked out great for Jake and his career. It was perfect timing for him to reach some levels that he was capable of reaching. I’m happy for him. Whether it’s (Strop) or him, they did some good things for us and we were able to acquire some players that we felt like we needed through their talents, and they got to a place where they were able to go to another level,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Friday. “Whether or not it could have happened here, some people might debate it. I think Jake, sooner or later, would have reached his level wherever he would have been. So, I pull for Jake every time he pitches, except for against us. I’m happy for him. He’s done some things you’d like to think he could have done here. I think talent plays. It always comes out.”

Yes, the fact that the Orioles couldn’t get that talent to come out in Baltimore is probably the biggest snafu of the Showalter-Duquette tenure. More than letting Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis walk or signing Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million deal (something they did before the 2014 season because they needed to boost the rotation).

It’s their biggest snafu because the Orioles are still searching for a top-of-the-rotation starter.

One will be on the mound Saturday night at Camden Yards. Just in a different uniform.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. general81

    July 15, 2017 at 7:36 am

    Dan, I disagree. I don’t call it a bad trade – it was unloading an under-performing player for assets. At the time, the Orioles were lucky to get what they did for Arrieta – as you point out, Dan, he pitched in 69 games over multiple seasons, and was never able to put it all together. I remember reading stories at the beginning of at least one season where Arrieta said he was ready to go, felt good, feeling confident and strong, then … he would get shelled, or would scuffle, or have a brilliant inning followed by a few bad ones. And on more than one occasion, a local writer said it was as much mental as physical for him.

    What should the Orioles have done? Hang onto him and let him get bounced around every fifth day? Continue to hope he would figure it out? Given his lack of success in Baltimore, he was never going to succeed here. I am delighted and thrilled for him that he attained great success with the Cubs – as you said, he is honest, open, and very matter-of-fact about his time in Baltimore.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 15, 2017 at 9:24 am

      General, I agree with most everything you say here. At the time, I wrote that it was a risk given Arrieta’s talent but an understandable one given his performance, and Feldman was a rotation upgrade at the time. But we also have to judge it on what it became. They gave up a mid20s future Cy Young winner for a 2-month rental. Fair or not, the success of trades are determined in retrospect.

      • keller2198

        July 15, 2017 at 9:50 am

        Dan I would loves to read why you feel the Reggie Jackson trades was one of the worst. I was not a Reggie fan but Ken Holtzman did help get Scotty McGregor.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 15, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Reggie held out after the trade, which hurt the performance of a good team. He was a one-year rental. And they traded Don Baylor, who won a MVP, and Mike Torrez, a really solid rotation piece for years. They knew Baylor was a stud but thought they could re-sign Reggie. Instead he went to the rival Yankees and revitalized them.

    • Moto

      July 15, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Yeah, he may have under performed but I think the main reason he did was because the then pitching coach tried to change his pitching style. He goes to the Cubs and they let him pitch the way he wants to, and boom! He’s an ace pitcher.

      • Dan Connolly

        July 15, 2017 at 3:09 pm

        That goes hand-in-hand with confidence. But solid point.

  2. Ben1

    July 15, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    and to think there are those who speak well of DD skills as GM….. but not me.

  3. Essquared

    July 16, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    Does Jimenez need a ride to the airport?

  4. George Shriver

    July 16, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    The Reggie Jackson deal was far from a bad deal, let alone one of the franchise’s two worst. There were circumstances beyond the deal which sullied it in retrospect, but the reality was that the A’s traded Jackson, lefty starter Ken Holtzman, and a minor leaguer to the Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor, and right-handers Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell . With that said, Holtzman was then part of the 10-player deal w/ the evil empire which was in reality a great deal for both teams, back in the day when teams would actually deal w/in their own division- maybe in part b/c there was still a balanced schedule.

    Baylor of course had his days w/ the A’s, Angels & Twins, but Torrez had only a modicum of success after the trade and Mitchell never really had any level of big league success. Jackson’s year with the O’s was pretty good- better than 4 of his 5 with the evil empire, and considering he reported late and had a slow start, his overall numbers were very strong.

  5. Essquared

    July 16, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Dan,
    The worst trade happened before the Orioles played their first major league game. Before the season started, they traded Roy Sievers for Gil Coan. In the next 10 years, Sievers averaged 25-30 HR, 90-95 RBI and batted in the .260’s. Coan played 2 seasons with the Orioles (the equivalent of one full season because of injuries), hit a little over .250 with a total of 31 RBI and 3 HR.

  6. Raymo

    July 18, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    I disagree ES2. The worst trade was definitely the Glenn Davis trade (as Dan said). We gave up Curt Shilling, Steve Finley, and Pete Harnish and got no production in return. I always thought it was Houston’s revenge for the Mike Cuellar trade (which may have been our best trade ever).

    • Essquared

      July 20, 2017 at 3:12 pm

      Raymo: I’m going to have to agree with you in retrospect but at the time of the trade no one knew that Davis was finished.

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