Disclaimer Number 1 — Deep down, I'm a Chicago Cubs fan. I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago and watched Cubs games on WGN during summer afternoons. I write for an Orioles blog because I work for and about the Orioles' AAA farm team, but I root for the Cubs.
Disclaimer Number 2 — I've probably been more negative about Jake Arrieta than almost anyone else. I recognize that he can pitch a baseball very fast and can make pitches that move in ways that batters can't predict. But I also recognize that Arrieta's pitches don't always end up in the strike zone and, that if he pitches with less velocity or movement, batters hit them hard.
Given those two disclaimers, I think that the Cubs - Orioles trade is a good trade for both teams. The Orioles got starting pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger; the Cubs got pitcher Jake Arrieta, relief pitcher Pedro Strop, and permission to spend $388,000 on signing bonuses for interntional amateur free agents. The Orioles fill an immediate need while the Cubs add assets with longer-term potential.
That the Orioles need starting pitching is a given; the ERA of their starting pitchers ranks thirteenth in the American League. They tried Jake Arrieta as a starting pitcher earlier in the year; he failed and was optioned to Norfolk. At Norfolk, Arrieta's been an inconsistent tease; he's pitched some very good games — including a one-hit, seven-inning shutout on June 27 — but generally has struggled with his control and command. He wasn't going to be an effective part of the Orioles' 2013 rotation.
And the Orioles are, as they should be, in win-now mode. It's also fairly obvious that the Orioles' present and short-term future are better than their long-term future; there aren't a lot of young players in the Orioles' system who project to be better than their current players. Scott Feldman is pitching well as a starting pitcher for the Cubs; there's every reason to believe that he'll pitch better in 2013 than Freddy Garcia, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, and Arrieta, the pitchers who have rotated throught the fifth and sixth rotation spots. (A team has to account for six rotation spots because it's rare that the first five starting pitchers are healthy at the same time.)
Pedro Strop had become an ineffective and unnecessary component of the bullpen; like Carlos Marmol with the Cubs, he had been pitching so ineffectively that the fans were cutting him no slack. That made it impossible to get himself straightened out. Steve Clevenger is a generic backup catcher; because he's a left-handed, contact-oriented specialist, he may be useful after the rosters expand in September. These two players aren't important. The Orioles haven't been big spenders in the international amateur free agent market; they were unlikely to use the spending permissions they sent to the Cubs.
The Feldman for Arrieta trade is a classic trade in which a contender trades long-term assets to a non-contender for a short-term asset. The most likely outcome is that Feldman helps the Orioles to the 2013 postseason while Arrieta never rights himself; so the Orioles are most likely to "win" the trade. But the Cubs could win the trade big if Arrieta figures it out and becomes the pitcher people think he can. I think it's a good trade for both sides, and if I were a GM for either team, I'd make it.