The Cubs and White Sox recently completed two exhibition games and the results were one-sided. Simply put, the White Sox looked good and the Cubs did not. Given the fact the Cubs and Sox will play each other six times in 60 games in 2020, a whopping 10% of the schedule, the crosstown matchup will finally have significant postseason ramifications. Due to this, the fanbase trash talk will be a frenzy. That’s not a bad thing. It’s going to be fun. But before this trash talk begins, we need to get something straight: the Chicago Cubs do not regret trading Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for Jose Quintana.
The Cubs' Contractual Needs
When analyzing whether or not a team regrets a trade, you can’t simply compare the players side-by-side years after the fact. There’s more context to it, such as the situation each club was in at the time the trade was executed. In July of 2017, the Cubs were not only looking for a starter that could help them win a second World Series in as many years, but they were also looking for controllability in that starter. Jake Arrieta was coming off the books and all they had to show for the upcoming 2018 starting rotation was Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.
Adding Quintana not only gave them a third starter for years to come, but also a very cheap contract to fill that third starter role (he’s made ~$9.2 million on an annual basis while on the Cubs -- source: Spotrac). Quintana’s team-friendly contract was and still is one of the most valuable aspects to the Cubs regarding that trade, but nobody ever brings that up. Sure, when giving up blue-chip prospects teams normally net a top-of-the-rotation starter, but those trades never feature 3.5 years of controllability. You either receive an ace for a very short period of time, or you value contract longevity. The Cubs chose the latter. It was the correct decision because it has stabilized the rotation for three years and allowed the Cubs to spend more freely on pitching elsewhere (i.e. Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels).
Not only has Quintana stabilized the rotation; he’s also been pretty damn good. While many fans will blindly look at his ERA and scoff at his productivity, advanced analytics LOVE Quintana. Since the Cubs acquired Q on July 13th, 2017, the lefty ranks 24th in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) among starting pitchers (FanGraphs). That’s better than Zack Wheeler, Marcus Stroman, and Jon Lester -- guys who the average fan might think have significantly outperformed Q in that timeframe.
Since the acquisition, Q has virtually the same WAR as Mets “Ace” Noah Syndergaard. Yes, Syndergaard was hurt throughout the second half of 2017, but how in the world is the health of other players a rebuttal point to devalue Quintana’s worth? That’s irrational. A player’s value shows when he’s on the field. It’s as simple as that. And before Quintana’s lacerated thumb injury a month ago, he has missed almost no time, evident by his 534 innings pitched since the acquisition. As a Cub, Q has done exactly what a starting pitcher is paid to do: take the ball every fifth day and pitch. Sorry if I don’t think it’s reasonable to penalize his value because he’s stayed healthy.
In It To Win It
I could go in-depth about how both Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease are prospects that have zero guarantee of panning out, but that’s not really the point of this article. Even if both end up being All-Stars, while it would sure as hell sting to see that, it doesn’t mean the Cubs erred in the decision to acquire Quintana. They just came off a World Series championship and did their absolute best to win another during the duration of their competitive window, which closes after the 2021 season when their entire core hits free agency. So far, they haven’t succeeded in that quest. And that sucks. But I’d rather have a front office that takes risks to win championships (i.e. Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman) than one that refuses to trade prospects to get over the hump.
If Eloy and Cease end up having very successful careers on the South Side, it’s going to hurt watching that unfold just eight miles from Wrigley. There’s no getting around that fact as a Cubs fan. But let’s stop with the nonsense that the Cubs regret the trade and start referring to it how it is: a deal that benefited both organizations given the current situation each club was in.