Jose Quintana is staying in Chicago, but he’ll have to get used to a new commute.
Trade season is here and Thursday brought us our first blockbuster. In a deal that appeared seemingly out of thin air, the Cubs sent four minor leaguers, including prized prospect Eloy Jimenez to the White Sox in exchange for ace left-hander Jose Quintana.
In the age of Twitter, at least one reporter, whether it be a beat guy or a national columnist like Ken Rosenthal, will inevitably spill the beans when a trade is about to unfold, giving fans time to process the news before it actually happens. But there was no warning leading up to Thursday’s bombshell. The announcement, shared simultaneously by both team’s Twitter accounts, came as an utter shock to everyone except two inexplicably well-informed Reddit users, who somehow had the scoop a day in advance. The only thing better than a blockbuster trade is the blockbuster you never saw coming. Thursday those two worlds came together at the center of a glorious Venn diagram.
This deal feels like a win for both sides. The Cubs, desperate to reclaim the magic that carried them to a World Series last year, have so far been hindered by an aging and injury-plagued starting rotation. Quintana can help with that. While his current numbers don’t scream ace—he’s posted a pedestrian 4.49 ERA in his 18 starts this year—Quintana has been much better of late, producing a robust 2.70 ERA with a 10.13 K/9 since June 1. The 28-year-old lefty has been a model of consistency, delivering a sub-four ERA in each of his first five seasons including a career-best 3.20 mark in 2016. He’s also been a horse, logging 200-plus innings in four straight seasons.
As good as he was during his time with the Pale Hose, Quintana somehow managed a losing record, finishing out his White Sox career with a lousy 50-54 record. This of course had nothing to do with Quintana’s performance and everything to do with the lackluster club that’s surrounded him for much of his career. Quintana has annually ranked near the bottom of the league in run support, a trend that will hopefully change now that he’ll be calling Wrigley Field home.
A week ago, team president Theo Epstein suggested the Cubs wouldn’t make any major moves, insisting that the defending champs just needed better production from the players they already had. Either Theo had a change of heart or he felt the opportunity to land Quintana was simply too good to pass up. Regardless of his reasoning, Quintana came at a steep cost with Jimenez and Dylan Cease both changing hands in the deal.
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If you consider prospects currency, the White Sox may as well be Warren Buffett. The Pale Hose added to their bounty on Thursday by reeling in Jimenez, MLB.com’s No. 8 prospect and the crown jewel of the Cubs’ farm system. Though he hasn’t been as successful this year in High-A, the 20-year-old was a behemoth in the Midwest League last season, powering his way to a prolific .329 average and 14 homers over 432 at-bats for Low-A South Bend. The White Sox also struck gold with Cease, a promising young right-hander who profiles as a front-of-the-rotation big-league arm.
There are many paths to success in the majors. After a long hiatus, the Astros got good again by drafting well with first-round picks Carlos Correa and George Springer emerging as franchise cornerstones. Meanwhile the Cubs had their hands in just about every jar, drafting Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez, trading established vets for Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell and opening up the checkbook for free agents Jon Lester and Jason Heyward.
The White Sox, however, have taken a page out of the Padres’ book, going the fire-sale route by trading big league stars for top-shelf prospects. GM Rick Hahn’s prospect haul has been immense. Since December, he’s turned Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and now Quintana into Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Jimenez and Cease. Hahn has correctly surmised that the middle is no place to be. The White Sox are headed for the bottom, but thanks to all the assets they’ve collected along the way, their day will come.
Epstein was patient in building the Cubs’ foundation—there were plenty of lean years leading up to last year’s coronation. But with the Cubs’ championship window wide open, Theo has been more willing to sacrifice young talent to plug up holes in the short term. Last year he moved Daniel Vogelbach, arguably the top first baseman in the Cubs’ system, in a trade that brought left-hander Mike Montgomery to Chicago. Epstein went to the prospect well again later that summer by delivering shortstop Gleyber Torres to the Yankees as part of a package for Aroldis Chapman, a three-month rental but one that was worth every penny.
Of course, the beauty of Quintana is that he’s more than a short-term solution. Quintana’s contract, which runs through 2020 if the Cubs exercise both of his club options, is shockingly reasonable for a player of his elite caliber. The lefty will net $6 million this year with $8.35 million more to come in 2018. Compare that to Matt Cain, the Giants’ $21-million-a-year right-hander who now makes his living as a long reliever. In Quintana, the Cubs are getting plenty of bang for their buck.
Quintana was the first pitching domino to fall but he surely won’t be the last. Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander have been among the most frequently mentioned trade candidates ahead of this year’s July 31 deadline with each attracting varying degrees of interest. Cole is probably the most enticing of those three given his age (26) and contract status (two years left of arbitration eligibility) while the aging and highly-compensated Verlander will be the toughest to move.
There was some level of expectation that if the Cubs were to strike a deal this summer, struggling outfielder Kyle Schwarber could be offered up as trade bait. The fact that he wasn’t moved in Thursday’s Quintana swap is either a vote of confidence from the front office or perhaps a sign that teams are beginning to question his ability. Either way, the hefty 24-year-old will live to see another day on Chicago’s North Side.
The way the Cubs have their rotation lined up, it appears Quintana will be returning to his old digs at Guaranteed Rate Field in the very near future. Barring a rainout or another unexpected development, Quintana will face his ex-mates on July 27, which would mark his third start as a Cub. Eloy Jimenez can relate. He squared off against his old club, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Thursday in his debut for Winston-Salem. He chipped in with a two-run single as the Dash outlasted Myrtle Beach for a 3-2 victory.
Now that the Cubs have their man in Quintana, there’s only one thing left to do—start winning some games. The quest begins Friday at Baltimore.
AL Quick Hits: Colby Rasmus won’t return to the Rays this year. He’s been out with a hip injury and has decided to “step away” away from baseball until further notice. The Rays have placed Rasmus on the restricted list and will not have to pay the remainder of his $5 million salary … The Red Sox parted ways with Jhonny Peralta on Thursday. It’s the second time Peralta has been released this year after being let go by the Cardinals last month. The 35-year-old hit just .200 in his 10 games for Triple-A Pawtucket … Chris Davis is slated to return from the disabled list on Friday. He’s missed the last month while nursing a strained oblique … White Sox reliever Nate Jones underwent season-ending elbow surgery on Tuesday. He’s been out with elbow neuritis since late April … A strained groin will send Lonnie Chisenhall to the 10-day DL. The Indians are replacing him with Tyler Naquin, who is expected to split time with Abraham Almonte and Brandon Guyer in right field … Per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick there’s been “increasing buzz” that the Rangers will entertain offers for ace right-hander Yu Darvish. The four-time All-Star is headed for free agency after this year.
NL Quick Hits: The Marlins are said to be shopping relievers A.J. Ramos and David Phelps. However, Miami won’t be listening to offers for Justin Bour, Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto, Dan Straily and Christian Yelich, who are all considered untouchable … The Dodgers are showing interest in Orioles closer Zach Britton. It’s probably a long shot but Britton and Kenley Jansen would make for a lethal late-inning duo. Britton just returned from his second stint on the disabled list after missing two months with a strained forearm … The Padres offered up All-Star reliever Brad Hand for Dodgers outfield prospect Alex Verdugo but were promptly turned down. Hand has drawn widespread interest but until the Padres lower their asking price, he’ll remain in San Diego … Eduardo Nunez (hamstring) went 0-for-2 with a walk Thursday in the second game of his rehab assignment with High-A San Jose. He played six innings of third base and is expected to be activated from the 10-day DL before the Giants’ game Friday against the Padres … There was speculation Kyle Hendricks could return this weekend but instead he’ll make one more rehab outing Monday for Double-A Tennessee. Hand tendinitis has kept the Cubs right-hander out for over a month … GM Neal Huntington said he doesn’t expect Jung Ho Kang to return this year and admitted that he may never play for the Pirates again. Kang has been unable to obtain a visa following his third DUI arrest in South Korea … Jeurys Familia began a throwing program Thursday at the Mets’ spring facility in Port St. Lucie. The All-Star closer needed surgery to remove a blood clot from his right shoulder about two months ago.