A year ago today, I was driving to Chicago with the family during the All-Star break for a mini-vacation when my watch dinged, I caught something vaguely shocking about Jose Quintana out of the corner of my eye, threw my phone at The Wife, and practically screamed “PLEASE SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING.”
What was happening, of course, was one of the most surprising trades in our collective Cubs memory, not only because of the lack of significant build-up, not only because it happened at a time when major trades very rarely happen, and not only because it was an EXTREMELY rare crosstown trade. It was also surprising because it was a really huge deal at a time when the Cubs were trying to come back from a big hole in the NL Central. The Cubs were not content to sit back and let the division slip away to the Brewers, even though they were already 5.5 games back at that point.
Quintana certainly helped in a big way on that front, as the Cubs sprinted out of the break to such an extent that, within nine games, they were tied for first place. But the deal was also very much about the years ahead when he would still be with the Cubs (and the prospects he cost could be starring on the South Side).
So here’s the question, now a year removed from the trade. If this is the guy the Cubs got in that deal – and he stays this guy – was it a successful trade, knowing that Eloy Jimenez’s and Dylan Cease’s stars have only risen further in the intervening year:
Tomorrow is the 1-year anniversary of the Jose Quintana trade. Since then, Quintana has made 32 starts with a 3.86 ERA (3.99 FIP), a 24.2% strikeout rate, and an 8.6% walk rate.
He's still just 29 and the Cubs have for 2.5 more years on the (relatively) cheap.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) July 12, 2018
Michael added for context in the current era that a 3.86 ERA would have ranked 26th in baseball last year.
The question here is not whether you think it was a good and appropriate trade at the time it was made (most of us did). The question is now that we have a year of data post-trade, if the guy Quintana has been over this year was always the guy the Cubs were getting, was this a good trade to make?
If we get into butterfly wings flapping, you could throw in the fact that the Cubs have all but said acquiring Quintana on his contract allowed them to be more aggressive in free agency to sign a huge deal like Yu Darvish’s. What do things look like if the Cubs hadn’t gone that route? What if they’d instead acquired Justin Verlander in August of last year? Does 2017 look fundamentally different, or does he not break out in the same way he did with the Astros (since they apparently have a very secret pitcher sauce)? Do the Cubs instead proceed to also sign Alex Cobb, who has been brutal?
For me, it’s such a very close call. I think there’s a lot of value in getting the results of 32 starts at a 3.86 ERA in this run-scoring environment. But would I trade Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for that pitcher, specifically, on Quintana’s contract? To be honest, I don’t think I would.
Let’s be very careful here, though, because I’m not saying I regret the trade. I still think Quintana can be better than the results column has shown with the Cubs, and since we have no idea what this year would look like in a world where the Cubs never got him (and the Cubs *are* very good and competitive this year with him), I’d get pretty nervous about saying let’s undo the whole thing only to find that this season proved to be an utter disaster because of those aforementioned butterfly wings.
So, on the whole, even with hindsight, I still approve of the trade. Should Quintana continue to be this guy, and each of Jimenez and Cease become stars in the big leagues, then you start getting into “trade made sense when it was made, but it didn’t work out for the best” territory. And that’s the fine line when evaluating trades with hindsight: you can comment *BOTH* on whether the trade was good, smart, and fair at the time it was made, and then also on whether it actually proved to be a good, smart, and fair trade when the reality played out.
Mostly, this one is still playing out.
A year later, Jose Quintana looks back at the deal that the #Cubs made to acquire him.
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) July 13, 2018