The Thursday before the second half of the Major League Baseball season is supposed to be the slowest sports day of the calendar year, though Wimbledon being moved a week later this year changes that a little.
But still, who expected Chicago’s baseball teams to take over the national sports spotlight on a normally boring day?
The White Sox and Cubs executed the 15th trade between the Chicago franchises in history and first since 2006 with Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana headed to the north side while the South Siders get four prospects from the Cubs, including outfielder Eloy Jimenez (No. 5 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America) and pitcher Dylan Cease.
And both fan bases should be happy, though when I woke up to the news and immediately looked at Facebook — the 2017 version of turning on the television and checking out ESPN, because I guess it takes less energy to reach for your phone than the remote control — it seemed like many Cubs fans were upset.
Stop it … just please stop it.
The Cubs got the best available starting pitcher at the trade deadline whose sabermetric stats are up there with the top No. 1 starters in the game. Don’t pay attention to wins and losses, you old-school baseball people. They don’t matter. They went out the window at least seven years ago when Seattle Mariners star pitcher Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award with a 13-12 record. Let that settle in for a minute … the year before, “King Felix” was 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and he didn’t win the Cy Young, but earned the prestigious honor the year he was barely above .500 record-wise, but led the league in ERA (2.27), innings pitched (249), hits allowed per nine innings (7.0) and had a phenomenal 7.1 WAR (wins above replacement).
In case you don’t know what “Wins Above Replacement” is, it’s probably the best sabermetric stat to gauge a player’s value. By definition, WAR represents the number of wins a player adds to the team above what a replacement player (AAA minor leaguer or a player that has just been brought up to the majors). A number of 2.0 or higher equals a viable starting player. Above 5.0 is All-Star level and a number in that 7.0 range equals a Cy Young winner or MVP as a position player.
Quintana’s average WAR per season (3.5) over than last four years is better than at least one-third of Major League No. 1 starters, and he’s been the White Sox No. 2 until this season. His accumulative WAR is 21.1 at age 28, which is just ahead of current Cubs starter Jake Arrieta (19.8), who is three years older. Jon Lester will still be the Cubs’ No. 1, but his WAR of 39.9 at age 33 is close to what Quintana’s will be at the same age if he continues his pace.
The News-Dispatch’s No. 1 Cubs fan, photographer Scott Allen, leans toward liking the trade.
“I think I like it,” he said. “(Quintana) is a proven talent. I hate losing all those good prospects, but that’s why (Cubs president) Theo (Epstein) built up the farm system.”
And that’s what Sox general manager Rick Hahn wants to do with his team’s farm system and subsequent rebuild — pattern it after the Cubs, even though he probably wouldn’t admit it outright.
Here’s the thing all fans need to understand: both sides wanted this exact kind of deal and it just happens to be between teams in the same city.
Epstein said a few weeks ago in a radio interview he wanted “young pitching under team control.” With all the stats showing Quintana is a top pitcher, the money is even more appealing. His salary is just $8.85 million next season, $10.5 million in 2019 and $11.5 in 2020 — the last two years being team options, which the Cubs will obviously take and run with it. He’s the second-best starter on the Cubs staff right now, but the fourth-highest paid. And in 2020, he’ll be making a little more than half of what Lester will be paid ($20 million), but a much better financial bargain. Arrieta ($15 million this year) and John Lackey ($16.5 million) will be gone by 2020, and Epstein will have plenty of money to go after a better free agent pitcher in the upcoming offseason.
Hahn said he needed to restock the minors with viable talent once it was determined the team was going full rebuild. In seven months, he’s turned his team’s farm system into one of the top three or four in baseball with nine of the top 68 prospects, thanks to just three trades.
News-Dispatch freelance sportswriter, and Sox fan, Kevin O’Keefe showed his fandom by gloating a little over the trades of Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Quintana.
“I think Hahn fleeced the Cubs, just like Boston (Sale) and Washington (Eaton),” O’Keefe said. “I like it. (Sox) weren’t going to win with Quintana the next year or two.”
Even one of the local fans of the St. Louis Cardinals — the real rival of the Cubs, not the White Sox — sounded a little jealous while throwing in a subtle dig at the North Siders.
“Smart move for both clubs,” Marquette High School assistant athletic director Brad Collignon said. “Cubs get a 200-inning guy for a rotation that consists of a lot of guys past their prime. Sox continue to hoard top-100 prospects.”
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer explained it perfectly on the radio Thursday: “For the White Sox, it makes a lot of sense. Right now they’re in the same type of window that we were in. The prospects mean more to them, Quintana means more to us than he does to the White Sox right now. I just think the logic of the deal makes sense.”
And don’t be surprised if Hahn makes a few more trades in the next couple weeks with closer David Robertson, slugger Todd Frazier, outfielder Melky Cabrera and starting pitchers Derek Holland and James Shields possibly going elsewhere.
This feels a lot different than the two biggest deals between the Cubs and Sox. In 1998, the Cubs sent minor league starting pitcher Jon Garland to the Sox for reliever Matt Karchner. The Cubs needed bullpen help as they were fighting for a wildcard playoff spot, while Garland eventually helped the Sox win the 2005 World Series. In 1992, the Sox traded Sammy Sosa — future home run record-setter, thanks to alleged performance-enhancing drugs — to the Cubs for George Bell, who helped the Sox win the division in 1993, but then fell off the face of the Earth.
By the way, the last trade between the teams in 2006 was an exchange of relievers — Neal Cotts going to the Cubs and David Aardsma headed to the Sox.
Bottom line: this trade helps both teams get closer to winning a World Series, which should be the goal of every baseball team. Who knows, maybe both teams meet in the Fall Classic in 2020 with Jimenez facing Quintana in Game 7 of a tie game after a rain delay.
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at email@example.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.