Despite an ill-fated reunion tour in 2021, the mark Jake Arrieta left on the Chicago Cubs organization is one that won’t soon be forgotten. The bearded right-hander played an integral role during the team’s peak – emerging as not just one of the best arms on the team, but in all baseball, evidenced by his run to the 2015 National League Cy Young Award.
But the trade that brought him to Chicago was never billed as anything special. We’ve seen virtually every team in baseball make similar moves over the years – adding a guy who just hasn’t been able to put it all together and might benefit from a change of scenery. More often than not, it makes a negligible impact on the team and that player is rarely more than an afterthought.
In a recent interview with MLB.com, Jed Hoyer admitted that he and Theo Epstein had zero expectations when they swung that fateful trade with the Orioles back in 2013. (That piece is a good read – and has comments from both Hoyer and Cubs manager David Ross, who caught one of Arrieta’s no-hitters during his playing days).
"“Never in our wildest dreams,” Hoyer said, “did we imagine that he was going to hit the heights that he did. In order to have the kind of run we had, you need those kind of wins. He’s certainly the biggest one of those that we had.”"
Before we delve too deeply into what Arrieta wound up doing in a Cubs uniform, we need to pause and tip our caps to Pedro Strop, who also came over in the same deal – and wound up cementing his place as one of the best relievers in franchise history: 413 appearances, a 2.88 ERA and 10.3 K/9 over eight years on the North Side.
Now, during that stretch of success, the Cubs made a lot of moves that panned out. From draft picks (Kris Bryant, most notably, who went on to win NL Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back years), to free agent signings (Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist stick out for obvious reasons) – this front office did a lot of things right.
But the difference between Arrieta and the names I just mentioned? Lester, Zobrist and Bryant (among others) were supposed to play major roles as the team looked to erase a century-plus old championship drought. The bearded right-hander, at least initially, wasn’t expected to be a key contributor when it mattered most.
The dynasty we all envisioned never materialized. You can blame it on underperforming first-rounders, a complete lack of homegrown starting pitching or a World Series hangover – your choice. But without Arrieta and his dominance on the mound, especially in 2015 and 2016, we might still be waiting for that elusive parade with blue, white and red confetti raining down from the heavens.
Cubs: At his best, Jake Arrieta was near-unbeatable on any given day
Watching the game on Tuesday night, this statistic flashed across the ticker at the bottom of the screen: during those two years, there was a 30-game stretch where Arrieta went 25-1 with a sub-2.00 ERA – and the only time he lost? Literally, the only time he took the ‘L’, Cole Hamels no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley. It took a no-hitter, something that’s been done only 314 times in the history of the game, to saddle him with a loss. That’s how good he was at his peak.
Even coming off that dominance, he was always ready to jump headfirst into battle – just look at him in Game 7. The guy had literally just pitched the night prior and with no rest whatsoever, was out in the bullpen getting loose in case Joe Maddon called upon him. That combination – the physical skills and the mental fortitude – is rare, but it’s what Arrieta brought on a daily basis.
Want your voice heard? Join the Cubbies Crib team!
A bulldog. A competitor. A champion. For a guy who came to Chicago with no expectations attached to him, Jake Arrieta leaves the game as a Cubs legend.