The Chicago Cubs have yet to emerge as a contender for Jose Quintana, but should they try to pry him away from their crosstown rivals?
The rumor mill surrounding Jose Quintana has been running full speed ahead since the Chicago White Sox began their full-scale rebuilding efforts in early December. The New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals have emerged as leading contenders to acquire the All-Star right-hander. The Houston Astros are also viewed as a potential fit for Quintana given their need for help in the rotation. One team who has not yet been linked to a Quintana swap in any concrete way is the Chicago Cubs, but does that mean they should be fully counted out?
Heading into the 2017 season, the defending World Series champions are set at four spots in their rotation with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey fully entrenched. The fifth starter is still up in the air, with Mike Montgomery penciled in for the time being. The Cubs are reportedly considering signing Tyson Ross and pushing Montgomery back to the bullpen. With question marks still remaining in the bullpen, finding a way to ensure that Montgomery bolsters it in 2017 is the best course of action for the Cubs.
Ross, who is coming off a significant shoulder surgery, would be a nice gamble for the Cubs given their depth in the rest of the rotation. He could ease back into things and be fully up to speed by the middle of the season. At his peak, Ross was a legitimate number-two starter, but it’s anyone’s best guess if he will be able to get back to that level.
Instead of taking a flier on Ross, the Cubs should be setting their sights on Quintana. The 27-year-old starter makes sense on a number of levels, and is under control for the next four seasons at a maximum cost of $37.9 million. You can’t get frontline pitching much cheaper than that.
Going forward, the Cubs are locked into a young group of hitters, but are not so set in the starting pitching department. Lackey is a free agent after the 2017 season, and may consider retirement. Arrieta will also be a free agent, and will command much more than $20 million per year. Hendricks is still under control for four more seasons before free agency, and the Cubs may want to consider locking him up. In the minors, the Cubs’ top pitching prospects, Dylan Cease and Duane Underwood, have not pitched full seasons above the Single-A level. The Cubs are looking at potentially three holes in their rotation after next season if Arrieta walks and Lackey retires.
Aug 16, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana (62) reacts in the third inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
The White Sox will be asking for the moon in Quintana talks, as well they should given his status as the best available starting pitcher in a weak market. He is quietly dependable and durable, throwing over 200 innings for four straight years with his peripheral numbers supporting his status as an upper-echelon pitcher. Throw in four cheap years of control, and it will take a huge package to land Quintana.
Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office do have what it takes to make an offer to blow away the White Sox and convince them to ship their ace crosstown. The Cubs should start trade talks with Javier Baez, a steep price to pay, but worth it. Baez does not figure into the starting lineup in 2017. He is blocked by Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber. If the Cubs do hold onto him, Joe Maddon will find a way to shuffle pieces around to get Baez and his stellar glove into enough games. Is that the best way to maximize his value, however? With Zobrist, Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell, Baez will never crack the starting lineup with the Cubs.
The Cubs do have another top prospect at second base approaching big-league readiness in Ian Happ, who was drafted out of college in 2015. The 22-year-old second baseman ranks second at his position in MLB’s top-100 prospects. Perhaps not as polished with the glove, Happ has just as much upside with the bat as Baez. To complete the trade, the Cubs could also add Eloy Jimenez and Cease or Underwood. That’s a lot to pay, but the Cubs have a potential All-Star at all nine positions in the field, and their prospects are not doing much good filling out depth spots on the bench. It’s only natural when a team ascends to the top of the league that the farm system suffers a little bit.
For the first time since 1908, the Cubs are the defending World Series champions, and their focus can now shift to adding more trophies. Developing prospects and collecting depth will always be important, but chances to acquire a pitcher like Jose Quintana are rare. The Cubs are already the overwhelming favorites to go back to the World Series next year, but their rotation gets hazy a few years out. This winter is the right time for the Cubs to go all in on maximizing their chances to win two, three, or even four World Series titles with the current core of young studs. Go get Quintana now, and allow Epstein to get back to finding talent in the draft and international market with the best starting rotation in the game.