The Rundown: Addressing Concerns with Quintana Trade, Thoughts on New Rotation

So it turns out not everyone was in love with the Cubs giving up four prospects for Jose Quintana yesterday. Whether it’s the cost to acquire him or the perception that the former South Sider isn’t the type of top-of-the-rotation performer who can anchor the Cubs over the next few seasons, questions were flying around all over the place.

In my never-ending quest to make you all believe as I do, I have taken it upon myself to address some of the questions in order to educate those poor souls laboring under the yoke of opinions that differ from mine. Which is to say, bad ones.

Oh, c’mon, I’m just kidding. Your opinions aren’t really that bad. But his? Oh, man, that guy has got it all wrong. So take my hand as I lead you to greater understanding. And don’t worry, I can still see just fine the road ahead just fine despite looking down my nose.

He has a 4.49 ERA and a 4-8 record

This is all true, as is the fact that he’s got a 50-54 lifetime record. But the fact that we’re having this conversation at all tells me that you put way too much emphasis on stats that aren’t very indicative of a pitcher’s true performance. As for the record, we could talk about how the White Sox have been less than great over the last few seasons (290-358 since 2013) or how the 4.4 runs of support Quintana has been provided this year ranks 54th of 74 qualified MLB starters.

On the ERA front, I’d direct your attention to a slow start that saw the soutpaw post a 5.60 mark through his first 11 outings. His 4.39 FIP, while not great, was significantly lower and tells us that he may have faced some tough luck. And then we could look at the three really awful starts that accounted for 19 of his 40 earned runs and six of 10 homers in that stretch. Take those out and you’ve got a guy with a 3.29 ERA and a 3.15 FIP in eight starts.

Over his seven most recent starts, Quintana has a 2.70 ERA with a 3.40 FIP with 10.13 K/9 and a nearly 52 percent ground ball rate. Very solid numbers. His walks are up a bit overall and the HR/FB rate is higher than in the past, though we could maybe lean a little bit on the balls that Commissioner Manfred swears aren’t juiced to address the latter rate.

Now, I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. I did cherry-pick those numbers a little bit. Quintana is still the sum of his parts, even if not all of those individual parts accurately reflect who he is. But even looking at his entire line, warts and all, Quintana’s 2.0 fWAR is the highest among all Cubs pitchers (Jon Lester – 1.7; Jake Arrieta – 1.4; Wade Davis – 1.1; Koji Uehara – 0.7). For what it’s worth, John Lackey is at -0.1 so far.

Price too high/depletes farm system

The price to acquire Quintana was admittedly very, very high. Giving up Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez most definitely stings and cannot be understated. But neither would have been impacting the Cubs at the MLB level for a couple years, if at all, and the Cubs needed a trustworthy starter this year and over the next two or three at least.

It’s easy to lose perspective when you see prospect after prospect coming up and doing big things and that’s been really fun for the Cubs over the last few years. But there comes a point at which you have a young, controlled roster that leaves little room for more pieces.

The farm system exists for one reason and one reason only: to supply the major-league club with talent. That comes either from prospects matriculating through the system or by trading them for MLB players. And with their last five first-round picks (save for this season) all up with the big club, the Cubs have done quite a good job when that first area is concerned. With the position players locked up, they had to turn to the latter strategy to land a pitcher.

Make no mistake, though, this was not a move of desperation (I really try not to go after guys for stuff like this, but it’s kinda sad when you only need two guesses to name the writer when told that there’s a column dogging the Cubs about this, that, or the other) and it’s damn sure not a mess (warning: this is like threat the level midnight of scalding takes).

Theo Epstein said in May that they’d needed starting pitching depth and that they’d deal from their redundant minor league talent to get it. So while the way the trade went down was a surprise, the fact that the Cubs made a move should not have been.

Not a top-line starter

This is probably the hardest to really argue against since, despite all the quantifiable data, there’s a sense that ace pitchers exist on this separate ethereal plane or something. It’s about more than just the stats and deals with a certain je ne sais quoi that other pitchers simply don’t exhibit.

I suppose there’s something to that if we’re talking about leadership and all, but Quintana is one hell of a pitcher. And he’s a very underrated one at that, as Jeff Sullivan pointed out on FanGraphs Thursday. In fact, Sullivan went so far as to compare the Cubs’ new lefty to *gasp* Jon Lester. Hey, we did that earlier too. Surely we’re all just drunk after bonging a few cans of Trade Light though, huh?

Gee, maybe not. So this Quintana guy has been one of the seven most valuable pitchers in baseball over the last four-and-a-half seasons, he’s only 28 years old, and the Cubs have him for the rest of this season and three more? Not bad. Add in a contract that pays only $33 million or so over his time on the North Side and it’s an absolute steal.

The prospect cost offsets that to a great extent, sure, but you really have to look at this in the same way you view the Starlin Castro trade. You see, that wasn’t only about the return for Castro, it was about clearing salary and a roster spot for Ben Zobrist. In addition to trading for Quintana’s production, the Cubs took on a contract that is a fraction of what they’re currently paying John Lackey and Jake Arrieta.

That means they’ll still have plenty of room this winter to add another pitcher in free agency. Or they could still make a move for a guy to flesh out the back end of the rotation. Which will cost more prospects and bring us right back to the earlier point. Keep in mind, though, that the Cubs still have plenty of redundant player assets in the minors who would be much better served getting a shot to make a roster elsewhere.

Jeimer Candelario is a guy who’s never going to see the light of day in Chicago outside of the occasional injury call-up, so while trading him thins out the organization, it’s a necessary part of doing business. But I digress.

Jose Quintana is really freaking good, period. This trade was about bolstering a sagging rotation now and anchoring it for the next three years after, which is worth a very significant prospect haul. If you still don’t like the move and care enough to leave me a note about it, scroll on down and make a comment.

How does the rotation shake out

I had shared some of my guesses as to the second-half rotation in the post about the starters for the Baltimore and Atlanta series coming up. Conspicuous in his absence is one Timothy Edward Butler, who appears to be the odd man out at this point. That makes sense, given the skin-of-his-teeth performances he’s posted in his time with the big club so far.

Some have suggested that Butler move to the bullpen, where his mid-90’s velocity could jump up a couple ticks and perhaps make him more effective. And while that’s cool and all, I’m not really interested unless it also grants him more command and control and makes him miss more bats. For all his velocity and perceived stuff, Butler walks almost as many as he strikes out. And he doesn’t scare hitters. Like, at all. Not really the guy you want coming out of the pen.

That spot is kind of a given with the Quintana acquisition, but the bigger question becomes who gets pushed out when Kyle Hendricks comes back. Popular opinion holds that John Lackey, he of the whopping 2.20 HR/9 and the -0.1 WAR, should be handed a pink slip. Though it sounds good in a vacuum, I’d rather see Mike Montgomery shifted back to a relief role.

I’m kind of lonely on my little island here, but I still say Montgomery is better when he’s operating in short stints. Not that I’m standing atop a hill with a willingness to die, just that I think it makes the most sense given the current situation. Some of that hinges on Lackey, who has posted three quality starts in his last four times out and who has the pedigree to be able to hold it together down the stretch.

There’s also the matter of flexibility and potentially making decisions that can’t be unmade, the latter of which isn’t something the Cubs are big on. Lackey’s not being moved to the pen, so the options with him are to keep him in the rotation or designate him. Montgomery, on the other hand, can be moved into a new role without the need for a personnel choice. So you give Lackey more time to see if he can regain his form.

And then there’s the idea that DFA’ing Big John means someone having to share the news with him, which is probably something the Cubs want to avoid.

More news and notes

  • What do you think of CI’s new look?
  • In a move that followed the Cubs’ trade for Quintana, the Brewers acquired lefty Tyler Webb from the Yankees
    • No word on whether his contract includes a Bushwood membership
  • The Cards are unsure on whether they want to be buyers or sellers
  • The Rangers may be willing to move both Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish
  • The Marlins are ready to sell, both players and the team as a whole
  • Sonny Gray, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole are all available, but the price is very high
  • Colby Rasmus has left the Rays and has been placed on the restricted list; few details are being reported, but this may be a matter of walking away to spend more time with his family
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