Seeing former Orioles prospect Jake Arrieta pitch for the Chicago Cubs on Saturday at Camden Yards is all the ammunition critics need to impugn the Orioles' starting pitching and the trades that depleted it.
But as the club looks to possibly paper over its most gaping hole at this month's trade deadline, it's not lost on executive vice president Dan Duquette or anyone else around the club that the Orioles have dealt a bona fide major league starter away in each of the past four Julys.
Beginning with the fateful Arrieta trade in 2013 — he went on to win the Cy Young Award in 2015 — the streak continued with Eduardo Rodríguez in 2014, Zach Davies in 2015 and Ariel Miranda in 2016.
For some, like Arrieta and Rodríguez, their progression elsewhere was inevitable. Davies wasn't a can't-miss prospect but had a strong minor league track record. Miranda was still unknown.
But combined, the quartet represented about 25 years of club control, making them almost immediately valuable to their major league clubs. The Orioles' veteran rotation, meanwhile, continues to falter as the pool of major league-ready candidates dwindles further.
Duquette acknowledges all that, but contends that "if you're in the race, part of the cost of doing business is trading for players to help you and pitching to help you."
"So if you have pitching that's available, young pitching that's available, you can be a player in the market," he said. "To me, it's part of the cost of doing business. Some of them are going to work out for you. Some of them aren't. In our case, some of the guys we've traded have gone on and done pretty well. But the fact that we're competitive and trying to add to the team, I think when you have a shot, you have to do it."
Each trade, with the benefit of hindsight, looks like a long-term loss for the Orioles. Some were from the start, while others provided immediate value and made a clear playoff team better.
None hurts more than the Arrieta deal, even with the understanding that the second wild card has made the July trading season a seller's market.
But altogether they form a pattern the Orioles need to remember when deciding whether to upgrade their flagging rotation for another playoff push this month.
"I would expect that some of them would do as well, but Arrieta did really well," Duquette said. "We gave him a lot of chances here. For whatever the reason, he didn't really get established here. But to his credit, he certainly did there.
"I mean, Miranda we signed a year before we traded him. We identified Miranda and we liked Miranda, but we traded Miranda for an experienced pitcher. We traded Arrieta for more experienced starting pitching. We traded Davies for an outfielder. That didn't really work out. [Rodríguez], that was an extortion piece. That was required, because if we weren't going to pay the price, there was another club that was going to pay the price."
Here's a breakdown of each deal:
The trade: The Orioles traded Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Chicago Cubs for right-hander Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger on July 2, 2013.
Why they did it: With Arrieta just one part of their young pitching core then mired in crisis under former pitching coach Rick Adair, the Orioles traded their lottery ticket for a proven commodity in Feldman, whom manager Buck Showalter knew from his time with the Texas Rangers.
What they gave up: Arrieta always had electric stuff, but he wasn't getting good results in the majors or meshing with the instruction he was getting. He left Baltimore with a 5.46 ERA over parts of four seasons, recording seven strikeouts per nine innings and four walks per nine with a 1.472 WHIP.
How it looked then: Most around the club, even with hindsight, say it's unclear whether Arrieta ever becomes what he is in Chicago had he stayed in Baltimore. Even those close to him say so. The trade was made with near-universal acknowledgement that Arrieta could go on to flourish somewhere else, but the Orioles didn't have time to wait for that with an inconsistent rotation of their own.
How it looks now: Feldman ended up 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts for the Orioles. Arrieta completely turned it around with the Cubs, posting a 2.76 ERA and producing 17.5 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. He earned the Cy Young and helped the Cubs win the World Series last season.
The trade: The Orioles sent the left-hander to the Boston Red Sox for reliever Andrew Miller on July 31, 2014.
Why they did it: The Orioles scoured the starting-rotation market and decided their best bet to improve their pitching staff, which was already in the midst of a late-season turnaround, was to add another premium arm to a bullpen that already included Zach Britton, Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter.
What they gave up: Rodríguez was a consensus top-100 prospect who had ascended to Double-A Bowie by age 20, though knee issues that have proven chronic were limiting him that season with the Baysox. He had made 16 starts for Bowie that year and posted a 4.79 ERA, but he was a fearless pitcher who used both sides of the plate and had command of three pitches.
How it looked then: Miller allowed three runs in 23 appearances for the Orioles that summer and helped pitch them into the American League Championship Series, posting a 0.600 WHIP with 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings. That he came to the Orioles instead of the rival Detroit Tigers, whom the Orioles ended up facing in the playoffs, was an added bonus. Rodríguez's stagnation that year at Bowie had frustrated the organization, though the injury was certainly part of it.
How it looks now: Miller walked in free agency that offseason, while Rodríguez's stuff spiked almost immediately after joining the Red Sox. His fastball and changeup both got harder as Boston coaches sped up his arm. He was in the major league rotation the following year and has delivered 3.8 WAR since the start of 2015 — a shade below what Ubaldo Jiménez has delivered for the Orioles, but in 120 1/3 fewer innings. He is under team control through 2022.
The trade: The Orioles traded the right-hander to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Gerardo Parra on July 31, 2015.
Why they did it: With their offseason trade for Travis Snider (which also cost two starting-pitching prospects, left-handers Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley) not working out, the Orioles needed a left fielder. Six players had cycled through that spot with little impact to that point, and Parra had a career-high .328 batting average with an .886 OPS on the season.
What they gave up: Davies was fresh off an appearance at the All-Star Futures Game in 2015 and was in the midst of his best season for Triple-A Norfolk, posting a 2.84 ERA in 101 1/3 innings at age 22. His ERA had fallen every season since he debuted in the organization as a 26th-round pick at Low-A Delmarva in 2012.
How it looked then: Parra had some serious red flags coming out of Milwaukee after playing so far above his career levels in a contract year. His stellar hitting against left-handers was due to regress, and his once-Gold Glove-caliber defense was slipping, according to most measurements. Davies' slight frame made his major league potential a question mark, though he had the results to suggest he was worth a look.
How it looks now: Parra hit .237 with 17 extra-base hits and a .625 OPS in his first taste of AL ball, and the Orioles missed the playoffs. Davies debuted a month after the trade and has been a constant part of the Brewers' rotation since, going 24-13 with a 4.25 ERA while generating 4 WAR since his call-up in September 2015.
The trade: The Orioles swapped the left-hander for Seattle Mariners left-hander Wade Miley on July 30.
Why they did it: The first few months of the season, the Orioles had featured Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson in the rotation. By July, those two had washed out of the mix, and even with the addition of Dylan Bundy from the bullpen, the rotation was a pitcher short with Jiménez on bullpen duty in July.
What they gave up: Miranda had a cup of coffee with the Orioles earlier that month, but he wasn't really on the major league radar at the time of the deal. He'd spent most of the year at Triple-A Norfolk, posting a 3.93 ERA in 19 starts. The Orioles had signed him as an international free agent in 2015, and while he didn't overwhelm with his fastball, Miranda used his entire arsenal to pitch effectively in the minors.
How it looked then: Miley was a durable left-hander who had his best year in 2012, when he was an All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks. His ERA had risen in every season since, but in Miley, Duquette got a pitcher he long coveted, with a season of team control tacked on, even if there were some warning signs that his best days were behind him.
How it looks now: Miranda essentially went straight into the Mariners rotation, and has a 4.06 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP. He's gone 12-6 in that span, while Miley is 5-12 with a 5.58 ERA and a 1.672 WHIP since joining the Orioles. Miley has a $12 million team option for next season that's seemingly unlikely to be picked up, while Miranda is under team control through 2023.