By: Tim Anderson, Contributing Writer
There seems to be a complaisance within the Orioles’ organization, or maybe it’s just denial.
When current Cubs’ pitcher Jake Arrieta threw his first career no hitter at the end of last month – just a notch in what is sure to be his first 20-win and 200-strikeout season with maybe even a Cy Young trophy to boot – the chorus from Baltimore echoed as if it was out of the mouths of a Sunday congregation: “Jake needed a change of scenery.”
Before Arrieta was the lights-out pitcher he is today, he was one of the many pitching prospects surging his way through the Orioles’ minor leagues.
He was a top 100 prospect in both 2009 and 2010, and looked to be a part of the Orioles’ rotation of the future that was slated to have a wealth of young arms — Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, etc — who together would rival the rotation put together by the Atlanta Braves in the late 90’s.
But something happened with Arrieta, and with Matusz. Britton and Tillman, too. And it’s happening now with Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Hunter Harvey: a series of top prospects knocking on the door to the Major Leagues, getting an answer, but finding out it wasn’t the person they expected on the other side; transitioning from “cant-miss prospect” to a sub-par Major League performer.
To say Arrieta needed a change of scenery, a move away from Baltimore and their organization, is mislabeling the issue. It’s complaisance. It’s denial.
Arrieta’s career in Baltimore was abysmal.
It ended with a 5.46 ERA in 69 games. In fact, in 63 starts for the Orioles from 2010 to mid-2013, Arrieta only won 20 games. There is a great chance that Arrieta wins more games with the Cubs this season than he did for parts of four seasons with the Orioles.
The change in Arrieta was near-instant when he put on the Cubs’ uniform.
In 2013, the season where he pitched half for the Orioles and half for the Cubs, Arrieta’s Orioles-ERA was 7.23 while his Cubs-ERA was 3.66.
Some say that the Cubs simply let Arrieta go back to the mechanics that allowed him to become a top prospect years ago, something the Orioles allegedly tried to change while he was in orange and black.
The night that Arrieta completed his no-hitter, Orioles’ beat writer for MASN Orioles, Roch Kubatko, tweeted, “I know what you’re thinking Orioles fans. But I still don’t think that was going to happen for Jake w/o trade. Needed fresh start. Congrats.”
Isn’t that the issues, though? Why should a pitcher with the talent of Arrieta need a change of scenery?
Along with the expiring contracts of Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, and others this offseason, as well as the probability of not making the playoffs despite high-quality talent, the Orioles will may also have to face another reality: that young, talented pitchers need a “change of scenery” before reaching their potential.
Real, perennial contenders — the Cardinals and Dodgers of the league — turn top, can’t-miss prospects into all-word Major Leaguers.
The Orioles will need to do some introspection this offseason: what is going on internally that causes this prospects to miss? The true reality is that Jake did not need a change of scenery; the Orioles need to change the scenery here.