Sunday, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported upwards of seven teams are still seeking starting pitching this winter, naming those “heard” to be on the market and those who “speculatively” could be.
Cubs starter José Quintana fell into Heyman’s second category. This isn’t to say Quintana is definitively on the market, but with Heyman’s speculation in mind, the Cubs dealing the 30-year-old lefty is realistic.
Teams that still seek a starter: Twins, Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Phillies, possibly Brewers, Braves. Starters whose names are heard on market: Price, Ray, Boyd, Clevinger, Happ, speculatively Archer, Matz/Stroman, M. Gonzales, Quintana. Should be a wild scramble.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 23, 2019
The Cubs picked up Quintana’s $11.5 million option for 2020 — the last year of his contract. That salary is very reasonable for a durable arm (30+ starts in seven straight seasons), but Quintana hasn’t been the same pitcher on the North Side as he was with the crosstown White Sox from 2012-17.
-Quintana with White Sox: 172 games (169 starts), 3.51 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 3.53 FIP
-Quintana with Cubs: 78 games (77 starts), 4.23 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 3.95 FIP
Granted, Quintana hasn’t been a bust with the Cubs, but he’s been up-and-down, showing flashes of brilliance (2.02 ERA in six August starts last season) while also struggling immensely (11.09 ERA in five September starts).
The Cubs could do a lot worse than Quintana as their fourth starter. However, based on their lack of activity in free agency so far this offseason, it’s evident they’re looking to get under MLB’s $208 million luxury tax threshold for 2020.
Spotrac projects the Cubs’ 2020 payroll to be a little more than $211 million. They’ll have to shed about $4 million to get under the threshold — more to address other needs on the roster.
Trading Quintana would get the Cubs' payroll under $208 million. It’d also open up another hole on the roster, as they’d have to replace him in the rotation. They could face that reality a year from now anyway, though.
Quintana will be 32 in 2021, and considering how he’s fared with the Cubs, they may not seek an extension with him. If that’s the case, why not move Quintana this winter to a) clear payroll and b) get something in return before they let him walk as a free agent?
Perhaps the Cubs can address one of their other roster needs — bullpen, center field/second base upgrade — in a Quintana deal. They won’t be offered elite prospects, but maybe they can net a solid player to boost the farm system.
Moving Quintana also would allow the Cubs to give Adbert Alzolay and/or Alec Mills a chance to take hold of a rotation spot next season. With Quintana on the roster, only one rotation spot is vacant — and the Cubs may opt to fill it with Tyler Chatwood. At some point, the Cubs have to give their young arms a chance in the rotation.
The Cubs must weigh short-term success vs. the long-term outlook of the franchise this offseason. If Quintana isn’t in their plans after 2020, trading him now would make a lot of sense.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.