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Five Years Later, Reflecting On Jake Arrieta Trade Is Still Frustrating

July 2, 2018
It's ironic, isn't it? 

July 2 marks the fifth anniversary of the day the Baltimore Orioles made one of the more difficult trades to stomach in franchise history. That day the Birds acquired pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger (Mount St. Joseph) from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for reliever Pedro Strop and starting pitcher Jake Arrieta. 

This week the Orioles visit Philadelphia for a pair of games against, you guessed it, Arrieta and the Phillies. 

Thankfully, Arrieta pitched June 30, so he isn't scheduled to take the mound against the Orioles. If he had, we may have needed to try to find out whatever happened to Alanis Morissette so she could write another verse. 

We've re-hashed the Arrieta trade time and time again during the past five years. We all know how bad it turned out for the Orioles. Arrieta has been outstanding since departing Baltimore, including pitching to a 3.54 ERA in his first season with the Phillies. (Although if I'm being fair, I'd point out that his ERA was as low as 2.16 May 29, so he has struggled a bit of late.) Feldman and Clevenger made minimal contributions to the Orioles outside of Clevenger being part of the deal that landed Mark Trumbo. 

Throughout these five years, I've maintained the same opinion about the Arrieta deal. It was a necessary deal to be made, and I commended the Orioles at the time for prioritizing the need to use a roster spot on a player who could help them win instead of holding on to an asset that offered no value at the major league level. As you'll remember, Arrieta's time in Baltimore was awful (5.46 ERA over 63 starts), and he was out of options at that point. The Orioles could have continued to send him out to the mound, but instead they acquired a player (Feldman) who was had a 3.46 ERA and 1.143 WHIP at that point in the season. 

No, the deal didn't work out for the Orioles. Feldman wasn't quite as good in Baltimore as he had been in Chicago, and the Orioles missed the postseason. Arrieta, of course, went on to become Jake Arrieta, a pitcher whose talent was always apparent but who was never able to get it together in Charm City. We'll never know if he ever would have. It's totally possible Arrieta needed a change of scenery … or to get to the National League … or to work with then-Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio in order to become the pitcher he ultimately ended up developing into. 

I will never second-guess the Orioles' decision to deal Arrieta to Chicago. I thought it was the right decision then, and despite the results, I still think it was the right decision. 

But reflecting on the fifth anniversary of the Arrieta deal is still frustrating. 

It's frustrating because what happened in 2013 is sort of a microcosm of the entire Dan Duquette era in Baltimore (which appears more and more likely is coming to an unceremonious close in 2018). 

The reason the Orioles felt the need to deal for Feldman in 2013 was in large part because of what they didn't do in the previous offseason. Knowing that their pitching staff was no more than a makeshift unit in 2012, the Birds needed an upgrade to back up their "flukey" wild card campaign and become a legitimate American League East contender. So how did they go about doing that? They waited until February and then signed Jair Jurrjens and Freddy Garcia. 

Who would have ever thought those moves might not be the team's saving grace? 

Because the Orioles didn't do what they needed to do in the offseason, they were left scrambling at the halfway point of the year to try to get back to the postseason. Their offseason moves didn't seem to prioritize winning, but they were willing to give up potential helpful assets during the season to try to improve the team. 

That's what we're going to think about when we look back on the Duquette era. That was the story of Duquette's tenure. At no point did the Orioles ever seem to go "all in" for the pursuit of a World Series title during the offseason, but they were inexplicably willing to part ways with talent midseason -- despite the fact that the returns were unlikely to make them World Series contenders. They let outfielder Nick Markakis, designated hitter Nelson Cruz and reliever Andrew Miller all walk after the 2014 season but felt the need to part ways with pitcher Zach Davies in order to acquire outfielder Gerardo Parra a few months later -- despite the fact that they in no way resembled a contender at the time they made the deal. 

(Again to be fair, perhaps the individual decisions weren't all Duquette's. He may have wanted to make others that management wouldn't approve. Perhaps the reason why he regularly stashed Rule 5 picks instead of acquiring real players was out of pure necessity instead of desire.)

As much as the return of winning baseball will define this era in Orioles history, so will an inexplicable lack of direction. The Orioles are experiencing one of the worst seasons in baseball history as they open a series with the Phillies, who are marching toward the playoffs with Arrieta and led by a front office of former Orioles executives (team president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak, assistant GM Scott Proefrock, assistant GM Ned Rice). They might even end up being the permanent landing spot for shortstop Manny Machado. 

The reason the franchises are in these respective situations? The team up the road had an actual plan. The Phillies #RespectedTheProcess, if you will. They were terrible, but they knew they were going to be terrible, acquired talent and then when they got to the cusp of being able to compete they became willing to make the necessary moves to get over the top and sustain success. Instead of stashing Rule 5 pick Nick Burdi on their roster this year, they dealt him to Pittsburgh for international signing money. 

Acquiring international signing money to try to sustain success? Wow. What a novel concept. 

So yeah, I refuse to judge the Arrieta trade differently five years later. But I similarly refuse to ignore the impact such conflicting decisions from the front office had on a franchise that appears to be in a very bad place today. 

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox