“I don’t think this team improves by trading Scott Feldman,” Samardzija opined on July 2, 2013, almost exactly a year before he himself was shipped to Oakland. “He was one of our better pitchers. He’s thrown a lot of innings, a solid dude, a solid guy in the clubhouse.
“It’s unfortunate. Just hope the guys they get in return are comparable and bring the same attitude to the field every day that those guys brought.”
Yeah, about that.
It’s easy to point and laugh at Shark’s comments now, given the benefit of hindsight. But players don’t get paid to grasp the intricate machinations of their organization’s moves and you can understand the frustration with seeing a good teammate, particularly one who had provided a bright spot for a team that was otherwise frustratingly cinereous, traded away. But in questioning the motives of the front office, the former Cub echoed what a good many fans were saying at the time too.
Never mind that Feldman had been performing at an aberrantly high level and that he had come to Chicago on a one-year, $6 million contract. Or that the front office was basically running the equivalent of a house-flipping business, except that they were rehabbing and re-selling Major League pitchers rather than decrepit properties. Or that the Cubs got two pitchers and two international signing bonus slots in return for a guy with a career ERA well north of 4.00. Oh, the Cubs also had to give up Steve Clevenger, can’t forget that.
Ah, but retrospect is a mutha.
Arrieta wasn’t exactly Mrs. O’Leary’s cow during his early time in Chicago, pitching to a 3.66 ERA (4.94 FIP) and a 1.12 WHIP in nine starts. He struck out 6.45 batters and walked 4.18 per 9 innings, leaning heavily on his fastball, which he threw at a 65 percent clip. He wasn’t very crisp, but the confidence the Cubs had placed in him and the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio helped Arrieta to finally put his game together.
Pitching development is anything but linear, as both the physical and psychological aspects of the game have to align for a player to truly leverage his talent. Arrieta has always been an advocate and devotee of good fitness and nutrition, but he had struggled to achieve focus. Once he was able to find his center in Chicago, however, things started to look up. Everyone is touting the insane stats from his last 24 stars over 2015 and ’16, but many forget that the man posted a 2.53 ERA (2.26 FIP, 0.99 WHIP) in his first full season with the Cubs.
Still, despite all the superlatives and the inconceivable stats, even Jake Arrieta has an off night once in a while.
“It felt sloppy from the get-go,” Arrieta admitted after a recent start. “I came out just tryin’ to mix, uh, was a little off with my command.”
That near-apology actually came as the best pitcher on the planet stood soaked in Gatorade and basking in the afterglow of his second no-hitter in as many seasons. It’s true that he was not at his peak, evidenced by a walk total (four) that was his highest since he handed out six free passes at home against Cleveland on June 16 of last season. Think about that for a moment. I mean, yeah, it was the Reds, who were Redsing in a bad way all night. Even so, Jake Arrieta turned a sloppy start into a no-hitter. We should all be so lucky.
But we are lucky, aren’t we? We’re lucky as Cubs fans to be able to witness someone performing other-worldly feats for our club rather than against it. And the best part of it is that luck had nothing to do with it. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the rest of the brain trust knew what Jeff Samardzija didn’t and saw what most of us couldn’t. That’s not to say they believed they were acquiring a pitcher who would eventually post a 0.86 ERA over his last 24 starts, just that they saw great value in Arrieta and used an infinitely expendable commodity to land him.
It’s fitting that Arrieta’s most recent no-no came against a team featuring Ivan DeJesus Jr, a man whose father was involved in what has long been considered the Cubs’ most lopsided trade to date. Well, most lopsided in their favor, anyway. It’s too early to place Arrieta’s name above Ryne Sandberg’s when it comes to naming the best return in club history, but the gap is closing quickly. Despite all the hardware Ryno racked up, helping the Cubs to hoist the most coveted prize of all would be a mighty big check mark in Arrieta’s favor.
At the end of the day, though, that’s really a conversation better suited for message boards or pre-game beers at Murphy’s. Whether you fall on the side of the second baseman or the man who just posted his second no-hitter, the mere fact that I can bring this up without being laughed off (though I suppose I still could be) is testament to just how good Arrieta has been.
It was a little over 30 years ago that I officially fell in love with the Cubs, led as they were by an up-and-coming kid who seemed capable of doing the impossible. The Sandberg Game and that 1984 season in general lit or reignited passions in so many fans. Now you’ve got Arrieta, along with any number of his teammates, doing much the same for a new generation. The stats boggle the mind, but the results warm the heart.
If I could ask anything of you, dear reader, it’s that you pay heed that latter part. To take a clinical approach or to view Arrieta and the Cubs through a lens of cynicism is to miss the point entirely. Focusing only on the end result and failing to live in both the euphoria and the frustration of the present is to deny what draws us to be fans in the first place. And so I leave you with the words of a young man who knew a little something about taking a break from life and simply enjoying the moment.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.