The Cubs essentially had Jake Arrieta’s countdown to free agency in mind from the moment they made that franchise-altering trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, allowing him to hit the reset button in the minors while also guaranteeing an extra year of club control.

The Cubs stashed Arrieta at Triple-A Iowa for parts of July and August, a time when their big-league rotation featured Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin, Travis Wood had been their only All-Star representative and Edwin Jackson led the majors with 18 losses in the first season of a four-year, $52 million contract.

But no one inside Theo Epstein’s front office would have predicted Arrieta — an enigmatic talent with a 5.46 career ERA in 358 innings for the Orioles — blossoming to the point where he would become the top pitcher on the open market this winter and command a nine-figure contract.

Maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers feel a sense of urgency after watching Yu Darvish pitch 3.1 innings combined in his two World Series losses and see Arrieta as the missing piece to their first title since 1988. Perhaps super-agent Scott Boras does yet another deal with Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner, making sure Gio Gonzalez doesn’t start twice in a five-game playoff series next year. The rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies could envision Arrieta as their version of Jon Lester.

But the day after the Cubs formally made the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer Arrieta will reject without a second thought — and before Boras does his stump speech during next week’s GM meetings in Florida — it’s worth remembering and appreciating how both sides got to this point.