In picking up his 2020 team option, the Chicago Cubs seemed to signal they have faith Jose Quintana can return to form and bring more consistency next year.
A day won’t likely ever come where most Chicago Cubs fans can objectively evaluate the work of Jose Quintana since the southpaw joined the team from the crosstown White Sox ahead of the 2017 trade deadline.
Of course, the Cubs sent a pair of top prospects in Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez to the South Side in the deal. In 2016, we saw both of these talented youngsters join the Sox at the big league level, only emphasizing the struggles of Quintana on the mound, especially late in the season.
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But that didn’t stop the team from picking up his $10.5 million option for 2020, giving first-year manager David Ross four starters coming back from last season, including the likes of Yu Darvish, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. It remains to be seen who the Cubs will go with in the final spot in the rotation, but, regardless, Quintana gets another shot to rewrite the narrative at Wrigley Field.
When Chicago traded for the veteran left-hander, most fans expected an ace. They’ve gotten anything but, though. The one thing Quintana’s always had going for him is his consistency – he’s made a minimum of 32 starts annually since 2013.
It’s understandable that a lot of people are turned off at the ‘big-picture’ numbers Quintana turned in last year. He managed a 4.68 earned run average – the second-highest among qualified started in the National League. That number took a major hit late in the year, especially in September.
Down the stretch, the lefty fell to pieces, contributing to the Cubs’ collapse in a big way. He made five starts, limping to an 11.09 ERA. Opponents torched Quintana for 37 hits in just 18 2/3 innings of work. That’s not going to cut it.
The story for Quintana in a Cubs uniform has been pretty cut-and-dry. He’s either really good – or really bad. There’s not much of a middle ground there for him. In wins last season, he was masterful, working to a 2.42 ERA and 1.029 WHIP across 13 outings. But in games that didn’t go the Cubs’ way, he put up an 8.34 ERA with an unsightly 1.897 WHIP.
When the left-hander can hit his spots, he’s a lethal threat on the mound. The problem is he hasn’t shown the ability to do that consistently – and when he misses, he misses bad and winds up getting hit hard.
Now the team picking up Quintana’s option is no guarantee he’ll be with the team come Opening Day. At his end-of-season presser, Theo Epstein made it perfectly clear: change is coming, one way or another.
"“It’s an accomplished and experienced group,” he said when speaking about the rotation. “But with the experience, we could stand to add some younger talent and refresh the group as well. We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff as well as we look forward.”"
If Quintana does, indeed, return, he’ll join Lester, who’s entering what may be his final year with Chicago at age 36, Hendricks, who the Cubs locked up via an extension last year and Darvish, who decided not to opt out of the final four years of his contract last week. Like Epstein said, there’s plenty of experience, but it’ll take more than that if the team wants to get back on top of the National League Central.
For Quintana, 2020 could be his last chance to silence his critics and those who like to play the ‘what-if’ game when looking back at the deal that brought him to the North Side. But if he pitches like he did last season, it’ll be a disappointing way to go out and will make things harder to swallow than ever watching Jimenez and Cease begin their respective careers.