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Arrieta trade could be reverse of Brock's

If star righty keeps up numbers with Cubs, it could make up what was lost in 1964 trade

CHICAGO -- Three words haunt a generation of Cub fans:

Brock for Broglio.

Mention of the 1964 trade that sent future Hall of Famer Lou Brock to the Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio causes lips to purse, heads to shake and eyes to roll. But these days, there are three other words that are being spoken more often:

Arrieta for Feldman.

Fifty-one years after Brock for Broglio, the four-player trade that sent pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop is flipping the script for modern fans. This time around, it's the Cubs who get the last laugh. The only question that remains is: How loud will that laugh become over time?

Could the Arrieta trade become as much of a positive for the Chicago franchise as the Brock deal was a negative?

Off the top of your head, you'd think it wouldn't, that it's asking way too much. But when you look at the relative value of players through the lens of WAR, you see that, well, it's got a chance.

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If the Cubs can keep Arrieta, and he stays on track, they can get as much from their 29-year-old ace as they lost when Bing Devine, then the Cardinals' general manager, fleeced John Holland for Brock, who was then 24 and had been rushed to Wrigley Field after one season in the Minor Leagues, in a Class C league. To make the math work, Arrieta has to pitch at the same level over the next four seasons that he has in his 67 regular-season starts since the 2013 trade.

This means that Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts will have to find a way to work out a long-term contract with Arrieta and his agent, Scott Boras, as he's headed for free agency after 2017. That could be problematic, even given how Arrieta loves playing in Chicago and credits the Cubs' open-mindedness for helping him tap into his potential.

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Trickiest of all, probably, given the attrition factor for pitchers, is that Arrieta will have to continue to generate rWAR at a pace of .218 per start. He's done that in going 36-13 with a 2.26 ERA since joining the Cubs.

Arrieta's ERA shrunk to that level from 2.75 when he turned in his historic 0.75 ERA over 107 1/3 innings in the second half of this season, helping the Cubs raise their win total to 97 games. This run is going to end at some point, so maybe it'll take five or six more years to generate as much WAR for the Cubs as Brock did for the Cards.

Castrovince: Arrieta's run arguably greatest in MLB history

Surprisingly, given that Brock stole 938 bases, scored 1,610 runs and was a complete player for most of his 16 seasons in St. Louis, his total WAR for those years was only 41.6, among the lowest for position players to reach the Hall of Fame while playing after World War II. Arrieta has already produced 14.6 WAR for the Cubs.

Four seasons of 30-plus starts at Arrieta's current performance level would generate another 26 WAR, putting him right on Brock's heels. And if his arm held up for a longer stay with the Cubs, well, he might fly past Brock.

Brock was also a legendary performer in the World Series, hitting .391 over 87 at-bats while helping the Cardinals win the seven-game World Series over the Yankees in 1964 and the Red Sox in '67 and losing a seven-game series to the Tigers in '68. So you can say Arrieta also has to make his bones in October with the Cubs to truly reach Brock's level, but if ever there was a modern pitcher prepared to lead the Cubs into an extended run of postseason appearances, it's Arrieta.

He's as high on his organization, manager and the talent around him as they are on him.

"We exceeded a lot of people's expectations, and I don't think that there's any reason we can't continue to do so, regardless of how people outside of the organization or our clubhouse feel about our team,'' Arrieta said at a Sunday workout before his Game 3 start against the Cardinals. "We know we can play with anybody, and I think we're a pretty scary team for anybody to play right now. We've got nothing to lose. We're playing well. We've got a lot of young guys with a lot of tremendous energy. … I think we're going to be a tough team to beat.''

Video: STL@CHC Gm3: Arrieta on mindset heading into Game 3

He was speaking in the present tense, having earlier said he won't truly be able to reflect on the staggering success of his 2015 season until "once the season comes to an end, hopefully the beginning of November.'' But this is a Cubs team that should be good for years to come, so maybe Arrieta will even earn some jewelry, like Brock.

There's a story to be flushed out about how the Arrieta trade came to pass, but the basic storyline is similar to the one behind the Brock trade. One organization did a better job realizing the potential of a player -- and tapping into that potential -- than his original team.

Brock, miscast by the Cubs as a right fielder, was hitting .251 with only two home runs when he was dealt to the Cardinals at the June 15 deadline in 1964. The Cubs' owner, Phil Wrigley, and Holland gushed about the 24-year-old Broglio, but Ernie Banks and others in the clubhouse knew what they losing in Brock.

"All they had to do was leave the kid alone, and he was going to be a great player,'' Joe Macko, who had managed Brock in St. Cloud, Minn., once said. "I told everyone to just give him some time, that he had so much talent and knew what he was doing.''

At the time of the Arrieta trade, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer cited the chance to acquire power arms from the Orioles and made the point that in getting Arrieta out of the American League East and into "our environment,'' they were giving him a chance to turn the corner in a career in which he had flashed his potential since Team USA.

This was a smart move based on good reports from pro scouts, to this point unnamed, but as hopeful as the Cubs were, they didn't envision that he'd transform into one of the best starters in the National League. The Cardinals probably didn't think Brock was on his way to Cooperstown when they made the trade in 1964.

"When we made that trade, the Cubs were taking a chance and we were taking a chance,'' Devine wrote in his memoirs, published in 2004. "You win some, you lose some … sometimes you get lucky.''

Phil Rogers is a columnist for
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