By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) As a Chicagoan, you’re used to the weather shifting seemingly on a whim to the point of cliché. This week alone, we’ve had pleasant and cool and sticky and soaked. And it’s only Thursday.
A city’s sports are sometimes over-metaphored, e.g. “DESE GUYS REPERSENT DA BLUE COLLARNESS OF CHICAHGO.” Once in a while, though, the sports seem to be an accurate reflection.
Remember when everything about Chicago baseball was a sinkhole full of vipers that were too depressed to even bite you? I’m talking as of when you left for work this Thursday morning. Yeah, well, they’re biting now, and it feels great.
On Thursday morning, the White Sox and Cubs did what nobody expected — they made a trade. This was a blockbuster to boot, with left-hander Jose Quintana moving to the North Side in exchange for four prospects: outfielder Eloy Jiménez, right-hander Dylan Cease, first baseman Matt Rose and infielder Bryant Flete. MLB.com ranks Jiménez and Cease as the Cubs’ top two prospects, respectively. Jimenez is rated as the fifth-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law.
This trade is beautiful for both teams. In the immediate, the Cubs shore up a starting rotation that was hemorrhaging suck and if not a 180 from the 2016 bedrock, damn close. Quintana is also under contract through 2020 and cheap considering the free-agent market value for his type. The immediate of the White Sox isn’t about the immediate on the field. It’s about drafting well and trading for pieces of a building future — one that general manager Rick Hahn is showing he’s adept at. His farm system continues to swell with talent from drafts and sharp trades. In the preseason, Minor League Ball ranked the White Sox system fourth in baseball, while Law had them 10th (up from 22nd a year prior). This trade certainly bumps them up everyone’s lists.
White Sox fans lose a horse in Quintana, and like trading away Chris Sale to the Red Sox in December, there’s a sting to it, as it forces fans to continue to reconcile that the current product on the field is bad and will be bad for a while. But remind yourselves that it has to be bad and has to get stripped of big-name parts to grow into the monster Hahn has planned for a few long/short years down the road. This is your general manager getting the damn thing done, and you should be ecstatic for the haul he got in return.
Cubs fans, don’t you dare go to that dark place in your scarred soul that frets about what was given up in this deal. Slap yourselves if you feel that prick in your heart. Ignore what you gave up. You have a cost-controlled, certified top-of-the-rotation starter in in Quintana in exchange for unsure (but probably good in the future) players. That your farm is now severely depleted of top prospects is one way to look at it. Another is that has manifested into a World Series championship, important pieces from other teams (Aroldis Chapman last year, All-Star Wade Davis and now Quintana this year) and the homegrown players on the big league roster who are contributing to a team that’s still a playoff contender and will be for years. The farm for you is conversational junk food while you root for a team that did and can win the damn championship of the world.
From a cerebral selfishness, this trade kicks ass in that it dissolves the narrative that the Cubs and White Sox won’t deal with each other, one that was visited as recently as this last offseason during the White Sox commencing to rebuild. A Hatfield-McCoy thing may have been going on above Hahn’s head — though Hahn told Matt Spiegel and Laurence Holmes on Thursday that it would be “laughable” to think executive Kenny Williams or chairman Jerry Reinsdorf would take an inferior deal in spite of the Cubs — but he was always too smart to concern himself with the Cubs as anything other than just another MLB team and not some enemy that too many fans on both sides of town want them to be. Hahn continues to take the reins of the direction of this team both baseball-wise and culture-wise, and it’s wonderful in its intelligence.
Besides all that, this is the two teams really scratching the hell out of each other’s backs in crucial times on both sides of town. How great is that? The Cubs helping the Sox, the Sox helping the Cubs. Both teams just got better because of each other. Glorious. Stupid Civil War mentalities that make no sense have been kicked to the curb by smart baseball people in both organizations whose jobs it is to make their teams better. And both are doing just that right now.
This is a trade that doesn’t just create buzz across the baseball landscape. “The Quintana Deal” will be talked about in Chicago for decades no matter how it ends up affecting both teams, with way more weight than Garland-for-Karchner and likely more important than Bell-for-Sosa. It’s a historic day in Chicago sports.
And how about how blindsided we all are by this? There were no serious whispers of this trade, and Hahn told Spiegel and Holmes that conversations with the Cubs took place mostly during the All-Star Game on Tuesday with the day after involving proper crossing and dotting of T’s and I’s. Is it a mere coincidence that the Milwaukee Brewers, the team the Cubs trail in the NL Central, were the media favorite in recent days to land Quintana? Maybe that had no bearing on the Cubs plans, but it’s difficult to think that acquiring a player whom your immediate competition wanted wasn’t a factor, if not an accelerant.
But that’s all gravy regardless. It’s a giddy day in Chicago baseball, fittingly like our weather that proverbially changes drastically in mere hours. Doesn’t the air feel awesome right now?
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.