The Chicago Cubs announced the acquisition of left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana from the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, in the league’s first blockbuster move of trade deadline season.
In exchange for Quintana, the White Sox received a collection of four prospects: outfielder Eloy Jimenez, right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease, first baseman Matt Rose and infielder Bryant Flete. But, here at Beyond The Box Score, we’re not in the habit of breaking news. We like breaking moves down, so let’s break this down.
The Cubs show a sense of urgency
The Cubs have been one of the streakiest teams in baseball this season. For each five-game winning streak they have, it seems that they have a five-game losing streak. Exiting the All-Star break, the Cubs are 43-45, just two games below .500 and five-and-a-half games out of the division lead. So they are within striking distance, and it appears that they believe Quintana will be the piece that gets them over the hump this season.
Their starting pitching has been a perfect reflection of this mediocre record. Basically none of their starters have repeated their 2016 World Series-winning performances, and while regression was expected, almost nobody was expecting a falloff this steep. Jon Lester has been their best starter this season, posting a 1.7 fWAR. At this pace, he is expected to fall more than 1.5 fWAR short of his 2016 performance (4.3 fWAR).
Jake Arrieta has been the only other starter to deliver a full workload to this point in the season, tossing 101 1⁄3 innings in his 18 starts. Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey and Brett Anderson have all been hurt, and a team can only expect so much out of Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery at the end of the rotation.
On the whole, Cubs’ starting pitchers have posted a 5.0 fWAR this season, ranking 19th in baseball. Last season, Cubs’ starters posted 9.6 fWAR in the first half (ranking 5th) and 17.3 fWAR overall. The starting rotation has been the team’s most dire issue this year, and it appears that Cubs believe that Quintana could solve this.
The problem is, though, Quintana hasn’t been as good this season, either. His ERA has ballooned by about 1.2 runs, and advanced metrics FIP and xFIP don’t value him nearly as well. Still, though, he’s been reasonably effective, as his 4.49 ERA and his 109-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 104 1⁄3 innings values him at 2.0 fWAR. That would rank him as the top pitcher on the Cubs’ staff by 2017 fWAR.
Quintana, though, is incredibly cheap. He’s owed just $6 million this season, and the Cubs will have team control over him through the 2020 season, on salaries of $8.8 million in 2018 and $10.5 million in both 2019 and 2020 on team options (that come with a $1 million buyout each). So, not only are the Cubs buying for the 2017 season, but they are keeping a long-term focus. For perspective, Quintana will be under contract longer than, say, Hendricks and be able to pitch in the red, white and blue during the prime seasons of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and the like, all while leaving the Cubs free to spend their prodigious cash elsewhere.
The White Sox got a prospect haul
Outfielder Eloy Jimenez and right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease are the Cubs’ No. 1 and No. 2 prospects, respectively, on the MLB.com list. Rose and Flete, both of whom are playing at Class A Myrtle Beach, are not on their Top-30.
Still, though, that’s a crazy return for the South Siders, who can now add Jimenez—who was rated as Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect in their midseason rankings—to a system that already includes top names such as Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, and others. In fact, according to MLB Pipeline’s list, the White Sox now have the No. 1, No. 8, No. 11, No. 23, No. 28, No. 36, No. 59, No. 63 and No. 68 prospects. For those not counting, that’s nine of the top 100 prospects, including three within the top-15. The White Sox’ system looks to be the one of the best in baseball.
Jimenez drew some comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton in the Arizona Fall League last winter because he has great bat speed and the ability to hit for power at the Major League level. This season, the 20-year-old is down at High-A and is hitting .271/.351/.490 with eight home runs and 32 runs batted in. His 18-to-35 walk-to-strikeout ratio is impressive for a young slugger, and estimates say he could be ready to come up by the 2019 season.
Jimenez is a great offensive threat for the American League Chicago club, but they also got a great pitching prospect in Cease. Cease, 20, was a sixth round pick of the Cubs in 2014, and he has some great fastball velocity that has ranged from 94-97 mph with the ability to touch triple digits. He’s in Class A this season and has made 13 starts, posting a 2.79 ERA and a 74-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 51 2⁄3 innings. He, too, could be ready for the 2019 season.
Rose, 22, and Flete, 24, are both playing at Myrtle Beach this season. Rose has a .761 OPS in 251 plate appearances this year, and Flete has a .780 OPS in 300 plate appearances. These appear to be throw-ins.
Nonetheless, the White Sox get a TON of future value in this trade, and the Cubs seem to be showing their hand. This trade deadline season has started off with a bang. We’ll see where this market goes from here.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.