The Chicago Cubs are still in the midst of a substantial rebuild. As such, the 2014 season should be used in part as a means of player evaluation. One player who requires a long look at the big league level is starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.
The Cubs acquired Arrieta from the Baltimore Orioles in the profitable Scott Feldman trade, a deal that also yielded potential closer Pedro Strop. Arietta was considered a reasonably good pitching prospect in the Orioles’ system for some time, but produced mediocre to bad results in parts of four seasons with the big club. Clearly, the Orioles felt Arrieta was expendable, but for the Cubs, there was possibly untapped potential to be mined in the right-hander.
Arrieta is an interesting player for the Cubs. While the system is loaded with quality position players, there is still a dearth of high-impact arms. The Cubs will eventually have to explore the free agent market or trade for a top-shelf pitcher, but someone like Arrieta could provide the Cubs with a middle of the rotation starter for years to come. The talent is clearly there, but now is the time to find out if Arietta can hold down a spot in the rotation. At 28 years of age, he is no longer considered a prospect, and the window will be closing relatively soon.
Arrieta has been hampered by right shoulder tightness since the beginning of Spring Training. However, after two successful rehab starts, he should be close to a return. Current fifth starter Carlos Villanueva was roughed up against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, and seems destined for a return to the bullpen. Arrieta seems to be the most viable option at this point for the Cubs, so he should slide right into that fifth spot.
This season is the perfect opportunity to evaluate personnel and set the table for the future. Arrieta now has a chance to show the Cubs that he can be trusted with a spot in the rotation. He enjoyed some success in his brief stint with the Cubs last season after coming over to the National League, and will hopefully continue to build on this foundation.