(CBS) When White Sox general manager Rick Hahn contacted Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein on Sunday to re-engage in trade talks surrounding left-hander Jose Quintana, he made one message clear.
“I was pretty direct about how this potential deal had to start with Jimenez and Cease,” Hahn said.
That would be 20-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez and 21-year-old right-hander Dylan Cease, the Cubs’ best position player and best pitcher in their farm system.
It took two days of mulling it over, but the Cubs got on board. Epstein called Hahn on Tuesday to inform him that the foundation of the deal was in place: Quintana for a Jimenez/Cease return. The sides worked another day on adding two more prospects who would go the White Sox’s way — infielder Bryant Flete and first baseman Matt Rose — and agreed to terms Wednesday night. On Thursday, the teams announced the blockbuster trade that sent Quintana into a championship chase with the Cubs and Jimenez and Cease into a rebuilding process with the White Sox.
“They were the players essential to this package,” Hahn said in an interview with Matt Spiegel and Laurence Holmes on 670 The Score on Thursday. “They’re the players that helped separate the Cubs from everything else on the table.
There’s a good reason the White Sox had their sights set on Jimenez for so long. He’s rated as the No. 5 prospect in the game by Baseball America, and they view him as a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
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. There was “nothing for us to talk about with the Cubs without Jimenez being a part of it,” Hahn said.
“Eloy, we feel he is one of the most exciting young players in the game with one of the highest offensive ceilings of just about any position player prospect in the game,” Hahn said. “He’s a potential middle-of-the-order bat with plus bat speed, a knack for barreling up the ball. It’s more than just the raw power that has been on display in recent years. He’s also a plus hitter. We feel he has the tools to become a solid defensive player on the corner in the outfield, and he fits in with what we’re trying to build here.”
Hahn drew a parallel to the White Sox trading ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Red Sox last December for highly two top prospects in infielder Yoan Moncada and right-hander Michael Kopech.
“In some ways, we equated it — with Cease and Jimenez — to getting Moncada and Kopech about a year earlier than we did in terms of their development,” Hahn said. “We view them both about having that type of potential upside.
“To Theo’s credit and his people’s credit and the entire organization, in the end, I think they saw what we saw, that from a logic standpoint and a baseball standpoint, this deal just made too much sense for both sides. And neither side let any non-baseball factors interfere with the decision to move forward and do what is best for each of the two clubs based upon where each of us are.”
Listen to Hahn’s full interview with Spiegel and Holmes below.