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.
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.