Over the offseason, the Chicago White Sox loaded up on prospects when they traded their star ace Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox, and outfielder Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals.
Since then, baseball has been waiting for the team to trade their next best starter after Sale, Jose Quintana. It was never a question of “if” but a question of “when, where and for how much.”
Thursday morning, those questions were, somewhat shockingly, all answered. The White Sox made a big trade with their crosstown rivals the Chicago Cubs. The trade seems like a fair one, but it will take some time to decide which team came out on top.
It was well known that Rick Hahn, the White Sox vice president and general manager, was looking for a big return for the 2016 All-Star Quintana. Even despite the fact that the left-hander has struggled a bit this season, finishing the first half with a 4-8 record and a 4.49 ERA.
He has maintained a good strikeout rate of 9.4 per nine innings, but his walks allowed per nine innings is the highest it has been in his six-year career. Quintana has also never had a season in which he has had an ERA under 3.00, with his best season ERA being 3.20 in 2016.
Part of what makes him so desirable is that he has been solid and healthy throughout his career, always maintaining an ERA under 4.00 (until now) and consistently pitching 200-plus innings per season.
Then there is his extremely team-friendly contract. Quintana is under team control until 2020 and under contract until 2018 with $10.5 million club options for 2019 and 2020.
Still, it seems questionable whether or not Quintana is worth what Cubs’ president of baseball operations Theo Epstein handed to the White Sox.
The White Sox have yet again loaded up on prospects making them a team to be reckoned with in future seasons. They did very well in this trade, much like they did in the Sale and Eaton trades.
For Quintana, the Cubs gave up their No. 1 ranked prospect outfielder, Eloy Jimenez, a two-time Futures Gamer whose power profile resembles Giancarlo Stanton’s. He is also the No. 8 ranked prospect overall on MLB.com’s Top prospects list.
They also gave up their No. 8 prospect, the highly touted starting pitcher Dylan Cease, who is currently ranked No. 63 overall, but is looking to make a big jump in the rankings when they are figured at the end of the month, according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo.
The White Sox also received corner infielder Matt Rose and middle infielder/outfielder Bryant Flete, neither of whom were ranked on the Cubs’ Top 30 prospects list.
Regardless of his tough first half of the season, Quintana should be a big boost to the Cubs’ starting rotation, one that hasn’t been quite as dominant as they were last season. There is also the fact that both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents after this season and they’ll need a strong Quintana to stay relevant.
Giving up their No. 1 prospect for Quintana may seem drastic, but the Cubs did so without touching their core 25-man rotation, which was Epstein’s main goal.
Epstein sees keeping the team’s current core group of guys, like Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant, together. To Epstein, that is more important than looking toward the Cubs’ immediate future, not their long term future.
“Despite the bad first half, which we’re accountable for, we believe in this group. We’re not looking to sell low on members of our core and we hope to keep it intact if possible and win more World Series with this group.”
The Cubs have had a slow start this season and find themselves starting the second half at 42-45, five-and-a-half games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. They hope Quintana can provide the spark they need to repeat as not only National League Central Division Champions, but also as World Champions.
Of course Epstein said that the trade “didn’t have a lot to do with the Brewers,” who he admitted were “legitimate, strong contenders.”
However, it’s a fairly obvious move to hopefully propel the Cubs forward in the second half. Hahn called Quintana a “great pitcher” and a “great person with a tremendous clubhouse presence.” Despite saying that it was “very hard” to let Quintana go, the White Sox are rebuilding, and Hahn and company are doing it well.
Quite a few other teams were in trade talks with the White Sox, including the Brewers, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees, according to MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi.
Those teams and others looking for starting pitching will have to move on to other high-priced and readily available pitchers such as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gerrit Cole, the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander, and the Oakland Athletics’ Sonny Gray.
However crazy this trade may seem, it appears that crosstown rival teams can make deals. The Cubs were in on the Sale trade talks, however, Hahn wanted Epstein to give up Bryant, which was never going to happen (although, it would have been a pretty fair trade considering the talent of both players involved).
So Epstein waited for the second best option from the White Sox, got the jump on other teams, and kept his core 25-man roster together. Giving up big time prospects isn’t usually a good idea, and Epstein gave up two huge ones in exchange for Quintana. Yet, if Quintana has a better second half, so will the Cubs.
And if the Cubs do make the postseason and perhaps even win the World Series, then the Theo “curse breaker” Epstein might have just done it again.
In a few years if the White Sox are making plays at the World Series, then we will know just how even this trade really was.
[Featured Image by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images]