Just before the All-Star break in July of 2017, the Cubs stood at a floundering 43-45 amidst an extremely disappointing first half. The decision was made to make a move.
With a starting rotation that seemed to be showing its age and also lost Kyle Hendricks to injury, Chicago was in desperate need of pitching help. On July 13, the Chicago Cubs sent prized prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to their crosstown rivals–the Chicago White Sox–in exchange for Jose Quintana.
The 2016 All-Star had struggled mightily in the first half on the South Side but instantly galvanized the Cubs after the break. Quintana pitched to a 7-3 record with a 3.74 ERA (including a 3.25 FIP) as the Cubs went 49-25 in the second half and won the division.
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Despite pitching poorly against the Dodgers in the NLCS, Quintana looked like a prime candidate to take a big leap forward in 2018. It didn’t happen.
Although the left-hander had his moments of dominance in May and September, he posted the highest BB/9 (3.5) and HR/9 (1.3) ratios of his career and finished the season with a 4.03 ERA and a 4.43 FIP.
Granted, Quintana’s adversity paled in comparison to the newcomers in the rotation like Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish, but remember that the Cubs had sacrificed a haul of young talent to acquire him in the first place.
As an organization, the Cubs are facing a kind of “reckoning” in 2019, and that is as true for Quintana as any other player on the roster.
White Sox reaping the rewards of the Quintana trade
While Jimenez has had a rough Spring Training and was always going to start 2019 in the minors so the White Sox could accrue more years of team control, he is on the verge of stardom. Jimenez clubbed 22 homers and hit .337 between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and figures to be a fixture of the rebuild on the South Side.
Meanwhile, Cease himself is on a fast-track to the majors. The 23-year-old dominated high-A ball before posting a 1.89 ERA and eye-popping 13.4 K/9 with the Double-A club in Birmingham. Given his dominance and stuff, it is only a matter of time before he arrives in the big leagues as well.
The Cubs have accumulated top outfield prospects for years and currently have plenty of depth, so the loss of Jimenez is an easier pill to swallow. Watching Cease develop is another story entirely.
Four of the five starters in Chicago’s staff are over 30, and Kyle Hendricks will also be 30 in 2020. And while the Cubs are optimistic that Ron Villone and other minor league coaches can develop guys like Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Thomas Hatch into major league pitchers within the next two years, they seem to pale in comparison to the promise that Cease presents.
What next for Q?
There is plenty of positional talent in the organization, but the Cubs’ championship window will ultimately be defined by the longevity of veterans like Jon Lester alongside the progression of in-house prospects.
Quintana has not been as outspoken as the likes of Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras or Yu Darvish concerning his motivational factor for this season, but he has spoken about the need to reestablish his changeup as an out pitch and will point to necessary mechanical adjustments for this year (subscription required).
But Quintana plays as vital a role as any in determining Chicago’s success. Entering his age-30 season, this could be a definitive year. Did the Cubs make the right decision in sacrificing so much young talent nearly two years ago?