Just like that, the first blockbuster of trade season went down. On Thursday morning, the Chicago White Sox announced a deal that sent starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs for prospects Eloy Jimenez, Matt Rose, Bryant Flete and Dylan Cease. In a rare instance, the White Sox were first to break news of the trade.
It's certainly a major move that will shake things up and could quickly set up other things to fall in order. For the Cubs, who entered the All Star Break five and a half games back of the Milwaukee Brewers, they desperately needed to make a move to improve their rotation. They exited the first half of the season with a 4.66 ERA.
Now they'll add Quintana, a 28-year-old southpaw under team control through the 2020 season. Quintana's 4.49 ERA this season is made up in part by a rough April. In his first five starts, Quintana registered a 5.22 ERA, 4.30 BB/9 and 4.85 FIP.
He encountered two rough starts in May where he allowed a combined 15 earned runs across seven innings, but as of late we have seen more of the old Quintana. Across his last seven starts, the lefty posted a 10.13 K/9, 0.9 HR/9, 2.70 ERA and 3.40 FIP. Those numbers closely line up to his strong 2016 season, when he turned in a 3.20 ERA, 3.56 FIP and 0.95 HR/9. Over Quintana's past three seasons before 2017, he posted a sub-3.4 ERA, sub-3.6 FIP and pitched 200-plus innings in each of them.
Those are the type of numbers the Cubs believe they can get out of Quintana and his move to a competitive team in the National League will help him even more. Just being in the thick of a playoff hunt for the first time in several years should add fuel to Quintana's fire and give him more confidence and energy each time he takes the mound. Going from the American League to the National League could also help his numbers with more of his starts coming in more pitcher-friendly parks.
For the Cubs, this now pushes Eddie Butler out of the rotation. Butler posted a 3.88 ERA across 12 appearances, 11 as a starter, this season but his 5.56 xFIP and 1.3 K-BB percentage were greater indicators of his issues. Now he'll join Mike Montgomery in the bullpen as Chicago also welcomes back starter Kyle Hendricks, who will return from the disabled list to begin the second half of the season.
The Cubs desperately needed to make a move and they made a significant improvement on Friday. The stability Quintana will provide to slide in behind Lester and the production Quintana will bring is one thing. But he is also a starter who can go seven innings, a wide difference between Butler's four-to-five innings. That alone will do wonders for the bullpen, which now adds Butler and Montgomery.
While this move came at a very heavy cost, the Cubs could handle it given their immense depth in the majors with young outfielders. They can turn things around quickly and this move should give them that boost that helps turn down the volume on some of the doubts and help them climb back on top of the division.
As for the White Sox, their months of patience and discipline to wait for the right offer to come paid off. Not only did Chicago land a top pitching prospect in Cease, who rated as the Cubs second-best prospect and is a top-100 prospect by Baseball America, but they also landed one of the five-best hitting prospects in all of baseball with the acquisition of Jimenez.
Jimenez is the center piece of this deal and the star who the White Sox hope can pair with Yoan Moncada to make an electrifying combo when they reach the major leagues. Jimenez is a 20-year-old corner outfielder that stands at 6'4" and tips in over 200 pounds. In terms of pure raw power, you can't find many more in the minor league level that can hit bombs as often, loud and far as Jimenez does.
He put that on display during a home run derby earlier this season, covered by Baseball America. There fans, scouts and writers once again witnessed the 80-grade raw power the young right-handed hitter offered at such a young age as he hit moon shot after moon shot towering over the walls.
The Cubs assigned him to High-A this season where the 20-year-old has shown flashes mixed in with growing pains. On the year, Jimenez posted a .271/.351/.490 slash line, .371 wOBA, 131 wRC+ and .841 OPS. He does carry a high-70 grade in terms of raw power, but the game power and consistent contact are still a work in progress. It's expected given his young age, but Jimenez also deserves credit this season for keeping his strikeout rate to a very acceptable 20.1 percent this season. Given that sits around the average in the majors this season and he balances it out with a 10.3 walk percentage.
Jimenez is showing a greater feel for the strike zone and knowledge of what pitches to swing at versus let go by him. It's also worth noting that he is at the High-A level, where the umpires strike zones may be larger and pitches that should be ball three or four, are instead called a strike and he gets struck out looking on a pitch that an experienced, MLB umpire would call a ball.
He will certainly need time, but Jimenez should find himself up at the Double-A level later in the season and the White Sox can then take things slow with him. They are committed to rebuilding to franchise from the ground up and with no plans to be competitive in the next two seasons, there will be no rush to push Jimenez up rapidly when he isn't ready. So that will give him time to improve his contact rate and really start getting barrel on the ball more consistently, so he can take advantage of that power that scouts compared to Giancarlo Stanton.
The excitement about a future lineup with Moncada and Jimenez will reach extreme highs. Chicago now holds arguably two of the three best hitting prospects in all of baseball, with Moncada being rated as Baseball America's top prospect and Jimenez coming in fifth at their mid-season update.
Cease also adds to a White Sox' farm system that boasted some of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and a group that can throw lightning fastballs. Cease is a 21-year-old, right-handed pitcher who currently resides in High-A. His numbers across 13 starts there demonstrate what his repertoire of a 70-grade fastball, potential 60-grade curveball and athletic frame can do to his competition.
Across 51 2/3 innings, Cease struck out a stunning 34.7 percent of the batters he faced this season. That number comes after a 2016 season where he struck out 36.7 percent of the batters he faced, though that came in just 44 2/3 innings pitched. While Cease still encounters some issues with command, demonstrated by a 4.53 BB/9, he shows continued improvement in that area after he entered the season with a 40-grade on his ability to command pitches.
Like with Jimenez, it will take a year-plus before Cease sniffs the big leagues but that's well in line with the White Sox plans. This team turned Adam Eaton, Chris Sale and Jose Quintana on a non-contender into arguably the best farm system in all of baseball.
A majority of the White Sox top-10 prospects are all made up of players they've added within the past year. Moncada, Michael Kopech and Luis Alexander Basabe all coming from the Boston Red Sox for Sale, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez coming from the Washington Nationals in the Eaton trade, the signing of Cuban outfielder Luis Robert and Chicago's first-round pick Jake Burger this year.
The White Sox are building the foundation of an exciting future. One that could future two hitters with the potential to be perennial All Stars and be in MVP chases, with a load of young arms all with high-end potential. Even while some will flame out and move to the bullpen, the White Sox deserve tremendous credit for changing the direction of the team and giving the fans a very promising future to get excited about.