By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs and White Sox were both winners in their blockbuster trade Thursday.
That’s the way fans of both teams should view the Cubs’ acquisition of left-hander Jose Quintana in exchange for sending four prospects to the White Sox. A leap of faith by both organizations brought about this significant deal that could help one team win another World Series now and the other to do in the not-too-distant future.
In the 28-year-old Quintana, the Cubs have added what they wanted for this season’s push toward the playoffs and beyond. Quintana is under club control through 2020, owed about $31 million from 2018 through 2020. His presence should be a big steadying force for a rotation that has regressed mightily from 2016 and one that has struggled all season to replace right-hander Jason Hammel, who left in free agency last offseason after winning 15 games. The Cubs’ No. 5 starters this season — Brett Anderson, Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery — have gone a combined 7-11 and struggled to go deep in games.
Quintana has been remarkably durable, never missing a start since joining the White Sox rotation in the first half of the 2012 season. He’s 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA and 1.32 WHIP this season, but he’s been much better lately after struggling early. Quintana has a 2.70 ERA in his last six starts, and he boasts a lifetime 3.51 ERA. That latter number only figures to improve in moving to the more pitcher-friendly National League.
Sitting at 43-45 and 5.5 games back of the NL Central-leading Brewers, the Cubs are now in a much better position to rebound in the second half. In addition to the obvious upgrade with Quintana, right-hander Kyle Hendricks is expected back soon after missing more than a month with a strained ligament in his pitching hand. The addition of Quintana could also have a trickle-down effect and fortify the team’s bullpen as well. While there’s still much to be discussed, the Cubs could move Montgomery back to the bullpen, where he’s flourish since they acquired him a year ago. He adds another reliable, sharp element to a bullpen that already has the fourth-best ERA in baseball.
Quintana appealed to the Cubs for reasons far beyond 2017. They have potentially four postseasons with him, and his team-friendly contract is half of the money annually that comparable pitchers go for on the open market. That’s important are the Cubs ready for right-hander Jake Arrieta and right-hander John Lackey to leave in free agency after this season.
Quintana is well regarded for his personality and work ethic as well.
“We are excited to add a high-caliber person and pitcher to our clubhouse,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday. “When I talked to Jose this morning, he said he was excited to stay in Chicago.”
The White Sox are in a much different situation than the Cubs, which is what fueled the trade. White Sox brass came to the conclusion last summer that selling veteran players — specifically those in their prime like Quintana and Chris Sale — was the best path to obtain the young players needed for a rebuild and to reposition their team for contention in three or four years. With the trade of Quintana and Sale and Adam Eaton last December, the White Sox rebuilding process is moving along more quickly than many thought. They White Sox have netted 11 prospects in return in those deals, five of which are rated among MLB.com’s 70 best.
In 20-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez and 21-year-old right-hander Dylan Cease, the White Sox have added the two top players in the Cubs’ farm system. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn made it clear to Epstein that both would have to be included in any trade if the Cubs wanted Quintana.
Jimenez is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the game by Baseball America. He’s hitting .271 with eight homers, 32 RBIs and 23 runs in 42 games at Class-A Myrtle Beach this season. He was the Midwest League’s Most Valuable Player in 2016.
Along with fellow prospects Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Zack Collins, Jimenez is viewed as a foundation piece of the White Sox’s offense and a future heart-of-the-order bat. Jimenez has big power potential and will be a corner outfielder.
The Cubs selected Cease in the sixth round of the draft in 2014. He’s had injury hurdles to clear in the past, including elbow ligament replacement surgery. This season appears to have been a breakthrough for him, as Cease has a 2.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings at Class-A South Bend.
“We will miss Dylan and his potential,” Epstein said. “Certainly, he is getting closer, pitching so well in high-A ball. He certainly has a big ceiling on him. We are still very encouraged by the steps forward are minor leagues have taken.”
This blockbuster trade was a perfect combination of players for both teams. The Cubs have the boost for the win-now mode they’re in amid a championship window, and the White Sox have reaffirmed their commitment to doing the rebuilding process the right way, from the ground up through a farm system that’s been further replenished.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.