Very few folks gave the White Sox bad reviews for the Jose Quintana trade.
Rick Hahn’s front office shipped out the team’s best pitcher earlier this week in a shocking crosstown swap that sent the 2016 All-Star hurler to the Cubs in exchange for that organization’s top two prospects. From the standpoint of the White Sox rebuild, it was a stellar move, the latest from Hahn, who also brought huge return packages of prospects back in offseason deals involving Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.
And more is expected. As the trade deadline approaches, several veteran White Sox have had their names brought up as trade candidates: third baseman Todd Frazier, relief pitchers David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak and Tommy Kahnle and perhaps even outfielder Melky Cabrera.
While the deals that have already happened and the deals that could follow have been great news for the farm system and the team’s future, the first series following the Quintana trade offered a grim picture of what things could look like after the team’s top performers are sent out of town.
Sunday’s 7-6 loss to the visiting Seattle Mariners ended a sweep at Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox 0-3 in their first three games after Quintana was traded.
Off the field, the White Sox have explained their feelings on Quintana’s departure: “It’s part of the game. It’s part of the business.” And surely they do feel that way. But on the field, at least the timing of these three results just didn’t look so hot.
“It’s always hard when we lose a teammate and a good person,” outfielder Avisail Garcia said. “But it’s part of the game. We’re here today. We don’t know tomorrow.”
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Of course, the White Sox were a last-place team when Quintana was traded, and the organization’s announced rebuild has been ongoing for several months. It’s not like dealing away the ace of the starting staff signaled some bold new direction that hadn’t already been understood.
But with Quintana dealt, trading season is officially on on the South Side, and that means manager Rick Renteria and his players have been answering questions about more rumors and more deals for the past three days. It means they’ll continue to get asked those questions for the next few weeks.
And to add to the visual, Quintana made his Cubs debut Sunday, turning in a spectacular performance, allowing just three hits and striking out 12 in seven shutout innings. That was vintage Quintana, the kind of performance that, albeit quietly, made him one of the American League’s top pitchers over the past several seasons.
“I haven’t sensed that the guys are down,” Renteria said. “Their friend, their teammate — who threw very well today, obviously, in Baltimore — they’re pulling for him. They know that the game of baseball has elements that not everybody likes. You would like everybody to be on the same team as long as possible, but change occurs and they’re pulling for him.”
That kind of pitcher no longer exists on the White Sox starting staff. The team is hoping one day soon that guys like Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech and others can lead a fearsome rotation. As of now, it’s a patchwork quilt of the guys we saw this weekend. James Shields gave up four runs and watched his ERA balloon to 5.10 in Friday’s loss. Mike Pelfrey couldn’t make it five innings in Saturday’s loss and now owns a 4.64 ERA. Derek Holland gave up five earned runs in Sunday’s loss, his ERA now sitting at 5.18 after blowing a 5-0 lead.
And what about in the bullpen? If Robertson, Swarzak and Kahnle all get traded, who's next in line? Chris Beck? He gave up the game-winning home run to Nelson Cruz in the 10th inning Sunday.
Again, these kinds of things were happening before Quintana was traded, and his absence alone won’t change a trajectory that already had the White Sox heading toward a last-place finish in the AL Central standings. But without him, the present-day positives become more difficult to locate, and the focus will increase even more on what’s going on down in the minor leagues, where the future of this team is growing.
As for the guys who will play the remainder of the team’s 2017 schedule, they have to continue to go about their business knowing that Quintana won’t be coming back — and that others are likely to follow him out the door.
“We wish Q the best, obviously. We’re talking about him leaving, and we saw him perform very well today, too, so you’ve got to give hats off to him,” Holland said. “But at the same time, we can’t get caught up in those kinds of things. We’ve still got to play the game whether we lose a guy or we gain a guy, whatever it is we’ve still got to show up every single day. To get caught up in something like that, it’s just not right. It takes away from your teammates, too, it shows you’re not focused.
“The outcomes (this weekend) didn’t go the way we wanted to. Look at how each game was, they were close. We’re doing the right things, got to keep plugging away. Things are going to change, can’t get caught up in that kind of stuff.”