On an innocuous summer day in 2013 I entertained a few friends from Wisconsin before a Cubs/Brewers tilt at Wrigley Field. I was in my nascent time as a ‘Chicagoan’, lacking the basics as it came to the grid, the CTA, and a seamless knowledge of the best food/bars no matter what neighborhood I found myself in. Still, I had a pretty good feel for Wrigleyville by that time, and after a few pregame beverages we nestled into our seats somewhere in the 230’s, down the right field line.
What made this day special was that it just-so-happened to be the debut of Jake Arrieta. I may have been (more than) a few beers deep, but I remember fondly that first outing. All told, Jake went six innings, surrendering just one run against two hits. In a moment I thought was prescient, I commented to my Brewer loving buddies that Arrieta would one day be a “solid no. 2”. They didn’t take me seriously, even as I remained adamant. Of course, my comment — based on my experience as a player and avid consumer of all things pitching — may have been heading in the right direction, but Arrieta moved the goal posts much further than I could ever have imagined.
Everyone worth their baseball salt has at least a passing knowledge of that fateful trade, but few seem to remember that, immediately upon becoming a Cub, Arrieta flashed a potential that never truly materialized in Baltimore. In 2013 with the Cubs Arrieta finished 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 51.2 IP. While his peripherals then didn’t suggest what he’d become (6.45 K/9, 4.94 FIP) his second half was certainly encouraging, if not prophetic. That the Cubs allowed Jake to be Jake, giving him the go-ahead to throw across his body, worked wonders for his success. Certainly, it didn’t hurt that Chris Bosio had a hand in his (and many of our pitchers’) development.
If 2014 was a bit of a breakout campaign, 2015 was historic beyond everyone’s imagination. If one thought his no-hitter against the Dodgers was the feather in the cap of that Cy Young season, they certainly weren’t prepared for the complete game he twirled in the Wild Card game in Pittsburgh — one of the most exhilarating playoff games I’ve watched as a Cubs fan. And even if he didn’t churn out elite numbers in 2016 or 2017, one should never forget that Jake won two of our World Series games (with all due respect to Ben Zobrist, Jake was my pick for MVP). And then in fitting form, his last outing as a Cub attempted to re-energize and give hope to a team that looked defeated, throwing 6.2 dominant innings, striking out nine while surrendering just one run on three hits. Truthfully there’s no better outing for Jake’s departure: it was gutsy, determined, and while imperfect, he was better than anyone anticipated he’d be.
During the late stages of his time in Baltimore, there was an interesting Twitter conversation between Jake and an Orioles fan. Even as virtually everyone seemed to give up on him, thinking of him as just another prospect bust in a sea filled with pitchers like him, he had this to say about himself:
@CWilliams2599 I will be a dominant starter. Wait for it..
— Jake Arrieta (@JArrieta34) April 24, 2013
Clearly he has always bet on himself, despite the odds, adversity, and failures that enveloped his early career. The Cubs won the lottery with this trade. Without Jake the Cubs rebuild would have been stunted, a World Series may never have happened, and the state of the organization may have an entirely different feel. Jake will always be a Cub in the eyes of fans.
His journey as a free agent — a time he should have relished while fetching a contract befitting of his track record — has proven to be as tenuous and stressful as his time in Baltimore. Regardless of where he ends up, even if it is to a rival such as Milwaukee or St. Louis, there’s nothing else a Cubs fan can do than earnestly wish him the best of luck. One may argue that his mechanics are at times inconsistent, or that his drop in velocity is more than a red flag. Regardless, he still shows that elite potential, and deserves the compensation attached to it.
When Jake inevitably returns to Wrigley to face our beloved Cubbies, I’ll hopefully find myself in the stands, giving him an ovation similar to what I gave him in July of 2013 after his impressive debut. Only this time, I’ll have a tear in my eye.