In order for any trades of significance to take place this year, I think we will still need to see a dramatic increase in confidence that the season will finish and the postseason will play out. How you actually get there? I have no idea. I don’t see some major “thing” happening that just clicks our confidence into place, but I suppose it’s possible, by late August, the national trends will have turned, outbreaks around MLB will either have gone away or will have consistently been limited and contained, and maybe even some new therapeutic treatments are on the market.
That is to say, you can’t really do the normal thing this year when a team suffers an injury here or there, and your mind drifts toward the trade market. I just don’t think it’s going to operate like that.
So, when the White Sox suffered another injury in their rotation (Carlos Rodon’s shoulder, adding to Reynaldo Lopez’s forearm, Jimmy Lambert’s forearm, and Michael Kopech’s opt-out), I get that people start wondering about things like this:
With Carlos Rodon now on the IL, what will the White Sox do with their starting rotation?@AdamHoge has 5 options, including… a certain left-hander on the North Side you may remember. https://t.co/tczhxtWV9q
— WWWWWWhite Sox Talk (@NBCSWhiteSox) August 4, 2020
There’s a superficial attraction there, with the Cubs’ rotation “full,” with the past connection to the White Sox, and with Jose Quintana approaching a readiness to pitch sometime this month.
But let’s say you could get past the idea that the Cubs would trade away some of their quality limited starting pitching depth – especially a guy who could wind up a critical lefty in terrifying bullpen – and let’s say the White Sox still wanted a guy like Quintana, coming off an injury, in a few weeks. Are you really going to get anything worth acquiring at that point? For maybe six or seven Quintana starts? In a season that might shut down? For a postseason where you might get one three-game series?
I think we all have to be really realistic if we’re even going to have these trade conversations. In dealing a guy like Quintana, in these financial and pandemic times, you *might* get some salary relief and a low-level, limited-upside prospect. Maybe. At most. So unless the Cubs decide they desperately need to save about $1.5 million in salary*, I’m not even sure it’s going to be a great idea to trade away a guy like Quintana. He can actually help the Cubs.
To do this, the Cubs would not only have to be overwhelmingly confident in the performance and health of their top five starters come late August, they’d have to feel really good about the arms available in the bullpen, AND they’d have to feel really good about depth starters like Adbert Alzolay or Colin Rea or Jharel Cotton or whoever. And, again, you’d have to be OK with getting almost nothing in return.
Maybe the circumstances on the pandemic and the season have changed so significantly come mid-to-late August that this calculus all changes. Maybe Quintana suddenly has a ton of value even in a short stretch. But that’s probably the less-solid bet at this point. Much better to pin your hopes on Quintana getting healthy, having a good first simulated start tomorrow at South Bend (two innings), and then contributing to the rotation or the bullpen later this month.
*(The luxury tax stuff. I know. It was THE big conversation this offseason, and while that was justified at the time, here’s how things have dramatically changed: the pandemic’s financial crush makes it nearly impossible for me to see the Cubs remotely approaching the luxury tax limit in 2021. And if that’s the case, then the urgency to get under the luxury tax THIS year (and avoid the risk of next year being the third year over in a row, when the penalties get extremely severe) is almost entirely eliminated. Do you still prefer to get under, all else equal? Sure. It can make your return on a qualified free agent a little better (or the cost to sign one a little less). But do we even know if players are going to RECEIVE qualifying offers this offseason? Are you sure a guy wouldn’t just take that offer anyway, given all the uncertainty?
Point here: I really am not thinking much about the luxury tax urgency at this point when it comes to trades.)