One year ago, the Cubs made a bold trade with the Chicago White Sox, acquiring left handed starter Jose Quintana for four minor league prospects, including two of the best players in the Cubs farm system: outfielder Eloy Jimenez and right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease.
So 12 months later, did the Cubs make a good trade or did the White Sox get the best of the deal?
With none of the prospects having advanced to the major-league level yet, you can’t call the trade a win for the Sox at this time.
However, we can evaluate Quintana’s first 12 months in a Cubs uniform and whether his performance was worth the massive price the Cubs front office agreed to pay to acquire him.
First, Quintana’s contractual status had to be taken into account when the deal was made. He had 3.5 years of team control left on his deal at a very affordable price. That fact made the cost of obtaining his services much more expensive. He had pitched well while wearing a White Sox uniform and several teams were trying to obtain him, so the Cubs had to make a serious offer before he ended up pitching against them with rivals Milwaukee and St. Louis also negotiating with White Sox GM Rick Hahn.
His analytical numbers were very attractive as he ranked among the 20 best starting pitchers in the American League in several categories. He had proved to be extremely durable posting four consecutive seasons of 200+ innings pitched and he had no major injury history on his resume. However, according to multiple MLB scouts that I spoke with they had their concerns that Quintana was worth the massive price the Cubs paid to acquire him.
The “eye” test just didn’t show an elite level starter. A good pitcher? Yes. But a pitcher worth one of the best prospects (Eloy Jimenez) in all of baseball? That was a bit of a stretch. Quintana’s contract obviously drove the price up but the Cubs needed to acquire a top flight starter with ace Jake Arrieta departing after the 2017 season. Not a pitcher who so far in 2018 is performing far below the expectations the Cubs had for him one year ago.
“It comes down to needs and wants,” then-Braves GM John Coppolella told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution of a possible Quintana pursuit before the 2017 season. “We don’t have needs in starting pitching. Do we want a No. 1 starter, is Chris Sale a No. 1 starter? Yes. Do we want Jose Quintana? I don’t think Jose Quintana is Chris Sale.”
His extremely team friendly contract — which includes team options for 2019 and 2020 — allowed the Cubs to address their rotation (Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood) and relief needs (Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow) last offseason.
But, the Cubs had another option to fortify their starting rotation when future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander was made available in trade talks and they rejected that by acquiring Quintana and then using their remaining minor league trade chips to acquire reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers.
Avila was a necessity because of a hamstring injury to starting catcher Willson Contreras that knocked him out of action for a month. Wilson was acquired with the expectation that he would be an elite setup man and a potential replacement in the closer’s role should Wade Davis depart after the 2017 season. (He did, signing a multi-year contract with the Colorado Rockies).
However, Wilson has been a major disappointment since he arrived and in fact, he was left off of the Cubs 2017 NLCS roster after struggling mightily with his control. He has been significantly better in 2018 but he is still not pitching at the level the Cubs expected him to be at after his strong performance as a member of the Tigers.
What if the Cubs had used some of their trade assets to acquire Verlander? Could anyone have projected that he would pitch as well as he has after a subpar start to his 2017 season in Detroit? Did the Astros see something that other clubs did not? Or did they catch lightning in a bottle on the way to a World Series championship?
This much is a fact: Verlander wanted to pitch for the Cubs and he made that clear to his agent. He had retooled his mechanics over his last handful of starts as a member of the Tigers and he believed he had a lot left in the tank. But, he was also owed nearly $60 million and was signed for one year less than Quintana. He also had a lot of mileage on his arm and he was believed to be on the decline by many around baseball.
Weighing all of the factors, it is very easy to see why the Cubs chose to acquire Quintana — younger, more cost controlled at a much lower salary, which allowed them to spend in other areas to improve their team and he was in much higher demand.
To date, Verlander has been far superior and his performance in helping to lead the Houston Astros to the 2017 World Series title was nothing short of amazing. Quintana has had moments of brilliance but far too often he has been mediocre and that cannot continue if the Cubs want to make another deep run in the post season.
Did the Cubs lose the trade with the White Sox? It is far too early to make that assessment because the Sox have yet to see any of the four prospects they acquired play at the big-league level.
But, this much is true: The Cubs paid the price to acquire a Mercedes and Quintana has pitched like a Buick much of the time. Not that a Buick isn’t a nice car, but you don’t pay big bucks to drive a car that isn’t special.
With the calendar now in July, it’s time for Quintana to pitch consistently like the star the Cubs believed they were acquiring if another World Series title on the North side of Chicago in the near future.