The name of Jake Arrieta will probably never be spoken in Baltimore without a sigh and a shake of the head. Whether you believe that the Orioles were responsible for his lack of development or that Arrieta would have ultimately been a Cy Young winner here, there’s plenty of cause to look at his performance in Chicago with some regret.
Arrieta has gone on to do what he has done. The Orioles, you may recall, received Scott Feldman in that trade, as well as Steve Clevenger. With Clevenger being spun into Mark Trumbo this past offseason and Trumbo going on to have the 2016 season he’s had to date, maybe that makes the trade hurt a little less.
As it turns out, Arrieta was very nearly traded to the other side of Chicago instead. The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg recently spoke with White Sox GM Rick Hahn about the near-trade.
If you think you hate the Arrieta trade that happened, well, it could have been so much worse. At least in Hahn’s telling, there was some discussion between the Orioles and the White Sox, who were also interested in Arrieta.
The South Siders had a 31-year-old reliever named Jesse Crain, a 2013 All-Star who, through 36.2 innings pitched that season, had a 0.74 ERA with 46 strikeouts against only 11 walks. Well, that’s pretty good. The Orioles had some big interest in Crain, according to Greenberg’s article.
The hitch with Crain is that he had suffered a strain in his throwing shoulder around the end of June. That meant that when the time came that the Orioles were looking to really make the deal - they dealt Arrieta for Feldman on July 2 - Crain wasn’t healthy and wasn’t worth discussing in a trade.
It was much worse than it might have seemed at that time. Crain didn’t throw a pitch the rest of the season, missed all of 2014, and had only a brief, unsuccessful attempt to come back in 2015.
Still, even if Crain had been healthy, imagine how much worse that trade would have seemed if the Orioles traded Arrieta for merely a rental of a reliever. The trade was bad enough when it was for a rental of Feldman, who was in the midst of a career year in his first ever season in the National League. No surprise he wasn’t the answer to the Orioles problems.
Maybe the Orioles would have ended up preferring the Feldman deal after all. Maybe a Crain trade wouldn’t have ever seemed as bad, if the White Sox wouldn’t have been able to revive Arrieta and turn him into a star the way that the Cubs have. Maybe it would have just been a forgotten deal that never mattered much to anyone.
There are tons of conversations around every trade deadline that never become public. Three years later, a hypothetical of Arrieta to the White Sox is nothing more than something to cause a chuckle for the White Sox GM. And for all of the Orioles fans still sighing over Arrieta with the Cubs, well, it could have been worse.