No Way, Jose: Big Trade for Quintana Surprising on Multiple Levels

If you came here looking for a deeper statistical dive into the trade that sent Jose Quintana a few stops up the Red Line, you’re in the wrong place. Not in the grand scheme of things, mind you, as we’ll have plenty more on the Cubs’ new toy over the next few days. I just mean this piece in particular, which seeks to explore more of the thoughts I had on the overall trade and how it went down without any of us really knowing about it.

First things first, we did know the Cubs were targeting controllable pitching. So enamored were the front office members of this concept that a drunken Theo Epstein recently stumbled into a Wrigleyville tattoo shop and had I ♥ COST-CONTROLLED STARTERS inked just above his massive neo-traditional bald eagle chest piece. And here you wondered why he always wears his polos buttoned up so high.

Okay, so Epstein didn’t really get that tattoo (Jed Hoyer did), but the phrase has been pounded into the very essence of Cubs cognizance by the staccato tapping of thousands of keyboards from the press box to mom’s basement. And for as much as the Ivy League product and his linguistically savvy crew can sometimes talk without actually saying much, Epstein previously told us exactly what the Cubs were going to do in no uncertain terms.

“It’s going to be really hard to crack this lineup,” the Cubs baseball boss told 670 The Score’s Mully and Hanley back in May. “We have a lot of outstanding position player prospects on the way, as well. But we don’t have the kind of depth, and we’ve been open about that, that we want with our starting pitching. There are going to be likely changes of some sort of the next several years with the way our rotation works.

“So at some point, we’re going to be able to pull off a deal where we trade some position player resources, probably in the form of prospects, for starting pitching to help our big league club, either in the present, the future, or probably both.”

With his strong track record and very reasonable contract, Quintana fits that bill to a tee. He’s owed a little less than $3.5 million this season and $8.8 million next, with club options of $10.5 and $11.5 million ($1 million buyouts on each) in 2019 and 2020. That’s about $34 million at the most for three-and-a-half years of service, which is only $2 million more than the Cubs will have paid John Lackey for two years.

Because that’s all exactly in line with what we should have expected, the surprise comes not from the trade itself but from the Cubs’ trade partner. They hadn’t done a deal with the White Sox since sending David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez to the South Side in return for Neal Cotts back in 2006. And they hadn’t consummated a big-time trade since picking up a wiry speedster with a penchant for gold chains and yellow sweaters in exchange for George Bell 25 years ago.

I’d say the Cubs came out on the better end of that deal for Sammy Sosa.

The lack of action in the time between, not to mention general unwillingness or perhaps even outright animus, led to a belief that the Sox would not pull off a trade that would improve the Cubs. Entrenched as they are in the current rebuild, though, refusing a deal as rich as this one would have been as stupid as Rob Manfred saying he hadn’t foreseen the manipulation of the 10-day DL.

“Sunday morning, I reached out to Theo to express that I felt something was going to happen with Q(uintana) in the coming days and to have a clear sense of what it would take for them, if they were interested, now was the time to engage,” Rick Hahn said Thursday. “I would say that over the next 48 hours, things ramped up substantially. We officially agreed to the deal last night.”

Hahn added that their shopping of Quintana garnered multiple offers, but that the Cubs’ was “far and away the most attractive given the potential impact of the prospects in that deal.” We can assume that the Brewers and Astros were among the teams engaged in those talks, with the former likely spurring the Cubs to action. Again, nothing really unique or revelatory in the idea that Quintana was available.

In fact, there were reports coming from the All-Star Game festivities in Miami that the lefty would be on the move shortly after the break. But to have this remain under the radar — particularly as far as the Cubs are concerned — for more than three days is really incredible in this era of the 24-hour news cycle and news breaking across social media like ocean waves. The first inkling we got came Wednesday night, when both Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez were scratched from their respective games.

But the first serious word of the trade was broken by the teams’ official Twitter accounts. Even Ken Rosenthal quote-tweeted the White Sox as a means of announcing it. Then again, those of you who were active on the White Sox subreddit last night know that news of the trade was actually broken by users *ahem* KatyPerrysBootyHole and wetbutt23. Wow, yeah, I just typed that.

I don’t really peruse reddit, nor would I have believed reports from said users if I did, but even the #sources I reached out to had no knowledge of the situation being anything other than status quo with the two main pieces involved. Now if I could just choke down the rest of this sodium pentothal, I’d probably dig a little deeper into the vault of truth and tell you that I didn’t see the Cubs pulling off a really splashy move.

The signings of Jon Lester and Jason Heyward showed us that they can lure free agents, but so much about the current situation cast doubt on their willingness and ability to get such a big deal done. You’d think this would effectively put an end to the talk of selling, though I suppose you could still make the argument that Quintana is a forward-looking piece and actually makes Jake Arrieta that much more expendable. You’d be wrong, but you could still say it.

The Cubs have confidence in the core of the team they’ve assembled and they are taking the Brewers very seriously. This move speaks to both of those topics in a loud, clear voice that probably resembles my own. Even as I look back over it, I remain less surprised by what went down than I am how it went down. Not only did the Cubs and Sox do a deal, but no one knew about it. Well, no one outside of a pair of redditors with crude handles. Which is somehow not the craziest thing about this.

I’ll be much less surprised if and when the Cubs pull off another trade for a lower-tier starter. Since I already whiffed really bad on one take today, let’s go ahead and say the Cubs get Kevin Gausman to switch jerseys when they head to Baltimore this weekend. Pretty fun stuff, huh?

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