Jose Quintana matched Clayton Kershaw after Cubs diverted plane for his wife’s medical condition

Jose Quintana matched Clayton Kershaw after Cubs diverted plane for his wife’s medical condition

LOS ANGELES – What a physically grueling and emotionally draining stretch for Jose Quintana, who wanted so bad to be in the playoffs but couldn’t have imagined the highs and lows quite like this.

On top of the Cubs playing their third game in four days in three different time zones – and a week where he already matched up against Max Scherzer and worked out of the bullpen Thursday night to help eliminate the Washington Nationals – Quintana felt the anxiety and handled a family emergency.

The victory flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to the West Coast got diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Friday morning when Quintana’s wife, Michel, experienced a panic attack.

The Cubs waited until Saturday to make what sounded like an obvious announcement: Quintana would be their Game 1 starter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

“She was just nervous,” Quintana said after a 5-2 loss at Dodger Stadium where he was just as good as Clayton Kershaw. “That’s the first time it happened like that on a plane. I just tried to relax her, and the doctor said: ‘We have time. We can stop and she can go to the hospital.’”  

At that point, the Cubs needed a new flight crew, but from the moment he arrived in a midseason trade with the White Sox, teammates and staffers have been impressed by Quintana’s attitude and professionalism.  

“We spent five hours on the tarmac,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Nobody complained. It was an empathic moment. Everybody understood what's going on. As a human being, you're concerned for other human beings.

“Q got off the plane. He spent some time, (talking to) our team doctor, everything seems to be well. Q got his rest. We contacted him. He felt good about pitching.

“It was a human moment. We’re playing a game. When you’re dealing with human beings, people take priority. I was really pleased with the way our group handled the situation. And I really respect Q's word. He said he's ready to rock 'n' roll, so we believe him.”

Quintana strung together four scoreless innings but seemed to wear down in the fifth against a Los Angeles lineup that is still tough even without All-Star shortstop Corey Seager. Quintana walked Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes in back-to-back at-bats, setting up two runs for the Dodgers and a bullpen battle that the Cubs would not win.

“I can’t imagine how that went for him,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “I’m glad everyone’s OK there. For him to come out and do what he did there – keeping them to two runs – it was pretty big. Obviously, it just didn’t work out for us today.”

The Cubs are learning what Quintana is all about, keeping his team viable while Scherzer flirts with a no-hitter, getting two outs as a reliever in an elimination game and canceling out Kershaw after five innings.

“My mind is strong,” Quintana said. “You want to go out there for your team. You got to push through it.”

No momentum yet on potential Cubs-Zobrist reunion

No momentum yet on potential Cubs-Zobrist reunion

SAN DIEGO — Theo Epstein's front office has a lot of difficult decisions to make this winter, but Ben Zobrist has yet to come up with his own tough answers.

The 2016 World Series MVP is currently a free agent after wrapping up his four-year deal with the Cubs. He played a major role on the team in September following a four-month absence to deal with a family matter. 

Zobrist, 38, said at the end of the season that he was unsure if he would call it quits after an impressive career or return for another season on the diamond. More than two months since he last put on a uniform, he still has not reached an answer:

If he does play another season, it would have to be in the right situation for his family. He's made enough money in his career and accomplished plenty — including hoisting a couple championship trophies — but he clearly still had the drive and desire to play, as he said in his September return.

The Cubs figure to be on the short list of teams that would make sense for Zobrist given the mutual familiarity, a home in Chicago and how the entire organization supported him as he stepped away from the team to address his personal life.

It would seem to fit from the Cubs' perspective as well, since they talked all season long about how they missed Zobrist's professional at-bats and his presence inside the clubhouse. 

But there is no traction on the reunion front at the moment.

"I haven't talked to him recently," Epstein said Monday. "I've talked to him since the season ended, but it was more just checking in on his family. As far as baseball, he hadn't made a decision at that point. He was gonna wait a while before deciding what to do. He left open the possibility, but that was it."

The Cubs have an avenue for playing time next season at second base and potentially in the outfield for Zobrist and they are currently searching for leadoff options. He proved he can still play at his advanced age by hitting .284/.388/.377 in September after months away from the game. He isn't an everyday guy anymore, but can still provide value as a role player.

If Zobrist decides to give it one more go, the price would have to be right for the financially-hamstrung Cubs, but a reunion would make a lot of sense for both sides.

Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras


Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras

Could we see a Willson Contreras-Joe Maddon reunion in Los Angeles?

According to Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times, the Angels are “heavily engaged in the catcher market,” and are having “active conversations with two teams” regarding a trade for a catcher.

Torres didn’t specifically mention Contreras, but he’s one of several Cubs who have been linked to trade rumors this offseason. The Cubs aren’t looking to enter another all-out rebuild, but they’re keeping the future of the organization in mind following a disappointing 84-win season.

The Cubs farm system has grown barren of impact talent. They’ve struggled to develop big-league starting pitching under team president Theo Epstein. Their payroll is projected to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second straight season, meaning they’d encounter a 30 percent luxury tax on their overages and see their draft position drop 10 spots, should they exceed the $208 million threshold by $40 million or more.

Trading Contreras — who’s projected to make $4.5 million via arbitration next season — won’t solve the financial problem. However, trading him could net the Cubs the type of blue-chip prospects they desperately need to replenish their farm system.

Contreras is also under team control through 2022, so there’s not a huge rush to deal the two-time All-Star. But if the Cubs sense he’s unlikely to sign a contract extension now or in the future, they must do their due diligence on him and see what they could acquire in a potential trade. The same is true for Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

The Angels have one top 100 prospect, (outfielder Jo Adell — No. 5 overall), according to MLB Pipeline, so what Los Angeles could offer the Cubs is questionable. Epstein and Co. won’t trade their backstop for the sake of doing so, especially if they deem any offers to be unsatisfactory.  

Contreras hit .272/.355/.533 with 24 home runs and 64 RBIs last season. He’d be a major addition for the Angels, whose catchers posted a combined .221/.293/.344 slash line with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs. The 27-year-old also has a special bond with former Cubs/current Angels manager Joe Maddon.

Contreras posted a heartfelt good-bye to Maddon on Instagram after the Cubs announced they weren’t retaining the manager for 2020. Contreras later commissioned a painting of he and Maddon as a gift for his former skipper.

Monday, Maddon said it’s “weird” to hear Bryant and Contreras mentioned in trade rumors, adding that he likes both players. 

The Angels aren't definitively linked to Contreras and Epstein recently advised to take rumors with a "mouthful of salt." But considering the Angels are reportedly seeking a catching upgrade, it won't be a surprise to see that change soon.