The Chicago Cubs released Jake Arrieta yesterday. The fact that a 52-64 team cutting a 35-year-old pitcher in August is news worth remarking on tells you a lot about just what a sour, awful season it has been on the north side of Chicago.
Arrieta signed a one-year deal with the Cubs in the offseason and then proceeded to be one of the worst starting pitchers in the league. In 20 starts, he crafted himself a 6.88 ERA and managed to contribute -2.2 WAR to the Cubs’ cause. He had a 9.00 ERA over his last 11 starts, the worst of which came on Wednesday against the Brewers. Arrieta made it through four innings of that game while surrendering 11 hits and eight earned runs; eight of those hits and seven of those runs were scored in the first damn inning.
So that’s about as bad as a guy can possibly pitch, but Arrieta somehow managed to make his final day with the team even more embarrassing after the game was over. While answering questions from reporters during a virtual postgame press conference, Arrieta decided to get all huffy and ask one of the reporters to remove the mask he was wearing. “I’d love you to take your mask off,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s around you.”
Arrieta is, of course, a vaccine skeptic. He is just one of the handful of players who prevented the Cubs from reaching the 85-percent vaccination threshold this season, and previously offered the standard gobbledygook that we’ve heard from many athletes—the science isn’t clear, I’ll be careful about limiting contact, blah blah blah—who have attempted to explain why they refuse to take a life-saving vaccine in favor of harming their team’s competitive chances. Why that skepticism also requires him to be a shithead to other people who are just minding their own business and wearing masks is probably something nobody will have the chance to ask Arrieta anytime soon, as it’s likely his MLB career is over.
There’s some sadness in seeing Arrieta, who was so good during his previous stint with the Cubs and so instrumental to their 2016 championship run, leave the team under such bitter circumstances. But honestly, it’s exactly what these Cubs deserve. They came into this season still employing a collection of exciting, talented players that everyone knew the front office was desperate to get rid of for the sake of slashing payroll, and then they went ahead and got rid of all those guys at the trade deadline. Ever since the Cubs were handed the World Series trophy in 2016, ownership has been on a desperate quest to spend less money, and this was the year the Ricketts family finally got what they wanted. Everyone saw this coming from miles away.
In that context, Arrieta’s signing and eventual combustion is the perfect symbol for this Cubs campaign. This is a franchise that seems to believe it should be able to coast on the goodwill of that World Series victory for as long as it wants to, and that fans should just eat whatever shit gets shoveled in their direction without any complaints. The Arrieta signing was nothing more than the front office saying, “Hey, remember this guy! Jake Arrieta? That guy who was here when we were good and won the damn World Series? Well he’s back now! Isn’t that great? Please think about how great that is while we get busy getting rid of every other good player who had anything to do with winning that title.”
Such a cynical appeal to sentimentality may have even worked if Arrieta hadn’t gone ahead and pitched like dogshit while also being a malignant anti-vaxxer. But reality eventually catches up to everyone, and there are no feel-good stories to be found in Arrieta’s or the Cubs’ 2021 season. There are just two former greats adding a whole lot of distance between what they used to be and what they are now.