Eloy Jimenez

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

Jose Quintana can't wait to face Eloy Jimenez someday

One year after arguably the biggest trade ever between the Cubs and White Sox, both sides are feeling pretty happy with their returns.

Jose Quintana has had a bit of a disappointing 2018 campaign overall, but he's been really solid lately, posting a 3.00 ERA and 1.27 WHIP since April 22 — a span of 14 starts.

He struggled in two starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last fall, but shut the Nationals down in two games (one start, one relief appearance) in the NLDS, allowing only 3 hits and a pair of walks in 6.1 innings.

All told, Quintana is 15-9 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 182 innings a Cubs uniform.

Meanwhile, the White Sox boast one of the strongest farm systems in the game thanks to Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the main pieces from the Cubs for Quintana last summer.

Jimenez has a .313 average, .912 OPS, 12 homers and 46 RBI in 65 games this season between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. The 21-year-old outfielder was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2018 campaign.

Cease is a bit further away from Chicago, but the 22-year-old is also having a strong season. He's 10-2 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 in 16 starts this year, with his last 3 outings coming for Double-A Birmingham.

Some Cubs fans may be expecting an ace out of Quintana, but there's enormous value in a guy that's under team control through the 2020 season and due just over $30 million for the 3.5 seasons' worth of contributions.

Still, Quintana understands it was a hefty cost the Cubs paid for his services and he embraces the challenge.

"These guys are gonna be All-Stars,"  Quintana said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "I've heard good things. I want to continue to do the best I can, but I know it was a huge trade. I know [the Cubs] paid a lot for me. That's a good feeling, you know? 

"It helps that [Jimenez and Cease] are doing good. I know they're younger, but it's amazing to be in that trade. I'm more happy right now to be here. Best of luck to them. 

"One time I'm going to face Jimenez, too, so I'm going to enjoy that."

We may not have to wait long to find out: The Cubs head to the South Side Sept. 21-23 for a 3-game set, when Jimenez could be getting his first taste of MLB life as a September call-up for the White Sox.

Jose Quintana's Blue Book value one year later: Mercedes or Buick?

Jose Quintana's Blue Book value one year later: Mercedes or Buick?

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.

Rick Hahn tells the inside story of how one of the biggest Chicago sports trades came together

Rick Hahn tells the inside story of how one of the biggest Chicago sports trades came together

Exactly one year ago, the White Sox were at the tail end of a three-pronged rebuilding selloff that would fully jump-start their rebuild, giving them one of the best farm systems in baseball.

Having already traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals, general manager Rick Hahn had one giant piece left to deal.  

Jose Quintana.  

At least three contending teams were in hot pursuit of the highly coveted left hander, not to mention two surprise teams that hadn’t been revealed in any reports. These two lesser known clubs weren’t ready to win in 2017, but were quietly trying to build a rotation with Quintana for the future.

Trade talks for Quintana were heating up. Specific names had been exchanged. A deal was getting closer. Quintana was probably headed to one of these teams, and very likely before the trade deadline.  

Hahn had one more phone call to make. It was to Cubs president Theo Epstein.

Wanting to leave no stone unturned, Hahn didn’t want to make a deal elsewhere without fully knowing the market. He saw a possible fit with the Cubs. Epstein, as it turned out, was interested.

Quintana had been one of the most consistent starters in baseball, plus he had arguably the best team-friendly deal in the league with 3.5 years and roughly $34 million left on his contract. Everybody wanted Quintana, including Epstein, who was looking for ways to upgrade his rotation. Quintana’s contract would also give him the financial flexibility to sign another starter over the winter, which turned out to be Yu Darvish.

[WHITE SOX TALK PODCAST: Rick Hahn dishes on the inside stories of the Jose Quintana deal]

But for Hahn and Epstein to make a deal, there would have to be a thawing of the White Sox-Cubs Cold War. The two franchises hadn’t made a trade with each other since 2006.

That trade was Neal Cotts and Carlos Vasquez for David Aardsma, an exchange that barely made a ripple on the Chicago sports Richter scale. This would be much different. This was Hahn trading away his best starting pitcher for the Cubs top prospects in their farm system.

The Cubs might have been defending World Series champions, the White Sox might have been rebuilding, but in this case, Hahn was in a position of strength.  

Since talks with other teams were so far down the road, Hahn already knew he was going to get a great return for Quintana. The question was, how great?

“The depth of those conversations with the other clubs is actually what put us in a position when it came time to talk to the Cubs to be able to be very direct with what it was going to take,” Hahn said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.  “We could sincerely tell them that without Eloy (Jimenez) and (Dylan) Cease being part of it, it’s not going to happen.”

Jimenez was the Cubs best hitting prospect, Cease was their best pitching prospect. Both were one to three years away from reaching the majors. The Cubs were ready to win now; the White Sox were focused on the future.   

On paper, it seemed like a perfect baseball trade. But even while they were discussing the parameters of a deal, Hahn and Epstein were keenly aware of the consequences of a possible a Cubs-White Sox trade, which in this town has the potential of taking a blowtorch to a gas tank.  

They knew that certain things out of their control could kill the trade before it ever reached the finish line.

“Throughout the entire process we were both very clear with each other. Look, let’s talk this through from a baseball standpoint with the understanding by each of us and with the latitude for each of us that we may need to come back tomorrow and say, ‘Hey man, this isn’t going to happen, because of whatever,'” Hahn said about his talks with Epstein. “The amount of potential distractions or noise or other issues that could have sullied the waters that wouldn’t exist if the White Sox are making a trade with the Dodgers.”

Fortunately, there weren’t any distractions or resistance from either sides. Hahn and Epstein both got the green light.

Now they just had to keep this thing quiet.

All baseball trades are like covert operations. Deals don’t get done without a huge level of secrecy. At any moment, word could have leaked, potentially dooming the trade.

“The word getting out would have certainly increased the chances for there to be scrutiny and noise and derailment,”  Hahn said. “It’s some other club jumping in, an offer being increased, any number of factors that can derail a trade. Certainly staying quiet was essential to being able to get the thing across the finish line.”

What helped was that Hahn and Epstein formulated the trade during the All-Star break, a time when most of the media is focused on the Midsummer Classic. Plus, reporters don’t have access to clubhouses and team personnel like they normally do.

The timing of their talks also created some odd situations. At one point Hahn had to ditch his son and hide behind an exhibit at the All-Star Fan Fest at the Miami Convention Center so he could speak with Epstein on the phone.

Whatever it takes to get a deal done.

On July 13, 2017, the trade became official. The White Sox agreed to send Quintana to the Cubs for Jimenez, Cease, plus infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.

Hahn and Epstein were sure the secret would get out, but it never did.

“The short answer is yes, we were surprised,”  Hahn said. “We were surprised in part because it’s very rare that we as a club get to be the first to announce any of our transactions, even if it’s Avi (Garcia) to the DL. That somehow gets out on Twitter more often than not. So the fact that a major trade of any sort held until a press release, much less a trade between these two clubs and the level of heightened antennae that are around both clubs, especially this time of year, we were surprised.”

However, the media was catching wind of the trade and gaining speed.

“I do recall I was on the phone with Q, which was the last step,” Hahn explained. “All the Cubs players had been informed. I was missing him and getting voicemail. Finally, he and I connected and while I was talking with him I was receiving text messages from members of the Chicago media.”

One of Hahn’s texts read  “Q to the Cubs?” Another was simply, “Eloy?”

“So I had to cut short what was a fairly heartfelt conversation with Q to let (the White Sox PR staff) know to get the release out because that was the last step. We wanted to make sure we were the ones to get it out in the end.”

One year later, the White Sox are quite pleased with the return they received. Jimenez has raked at three different levels in the minor leagues and looks like a budding superstar. He’s currently on the disabled list with a strained abductor muscle and should be back at Triple-A Charlotte soon after the All-Star break.

After dominating at Class-A Winston-Salem, Cease was promoted to AA-Birmingham last month. He was invited to pitch in the MLB Future’s Game on Sunday. Hahn says their staff looks at him as “a premium front-end starter.”

Quintana threw six scoreless innings against the Giants on Tuesday night to get his ERA below 4.00 for the first time this season. He went toe-to-toe with Max Scherzer in Game 3 of the NLDS last October. He has the 5th highest run support of any pitcher in baseball; the exact opposite was true when he was with the White Sox. Plus, the Cubs have 2.5 years left of team control for Quintana at a ridiculously low price.  

But this is sports. We live in a world where there has to be both a winner and a loser. Is that how the biggest trade in White Sox-Cubs history will eventually be decided?  Or will it be considered a win-win for both teams?

“We’re not going to know that for many years because the main reason this deal was able to come to fruition was that we were both at different portions of our success cycles,”  Hahn explained. “They acquired Q to help solidify their rotation and in their mind put them in a position to win multiple championships in the short term. That could still very well happen for them. Therefore, the deal would be judged as a great success for them.

"Our standpoint, we obviously weren’t going to be winning any titles in the short term, so the benefit to us in the long term, and we won’t be able to judge that for many years from now, hopefully we’ll be able to look back and see that Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease and others helped us win multiple championships.

"It is a bit of cliche, but in this situation it’s true based on how the teams are aligned in terms of their success cycles that this really has the potential to work out as a winner for both clubs on both sides of town.”