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White Sox transaction review: The Jose Quintana trade

It took longer than expected, but the White Sox found a centerpiece prospect in return

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

After the White Sox traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton over the course of two days at the winter meetings, Jose Quintana stepped up to the block.

There he would remain for the next eight months.

A number of potential suitors came and went, but Rick Hahn couldn’t find a match, and no deal seemed especially close to coming to fruition. To some, it seemed like Hahn was overplaying his hand or overestimating Quintana’s real value in the context of a rebuilding team. To me, it seemed like a byproduct of one team saturating the marketplace with cost-controlled talent. The Sox knew Quintana was special, but maybe that was lost in comparison to Sale and Eaton, and they’d only be able to reset the standards when a new market developed at the deadline.

The first two months of the season showed the risk the White Sox courted by waiting, but in the end, Hahn found a deal to his liking.

The White Sox traded...

*Jose Quintana, who no longer toiled in anonymity. Every start took on its own meaning, because every start became a point or counterpoint in the argument over the Sox’ gamble to retain him through the winter.

No stretch illustrated this better than his last three starts of May. On the 19th, he held the Seattle Mariners to one run on one hit and one walk over eight innings in a classic Quintana Win. Over his next two starts against the Diamondbacks and Red Sox, he allowed 15 runs over seven innings. Those disasters dragged his record to 2-7 while spiking his ERA to 5.60, and suddenly a Quintana trade might’ve had to wait until next year.

From all available evidence and testimony, Quintana wasn’t hiding an injury. His preparation remained the same, and his fastball hadn’t lost any steam. His command just went by the wayside, as he left considerably more pitches over the plate.

Fortunately, the Sox were able to iron out Quintana’s issues in June. He posted a 1.78 ERA over five starts because he was able to regain his release point and remove the cut that appeared on his pitches, which caused them to drift over the plate.

Quintana stayed with the Sox through two more starts, neither of which was a classic effort. He was undermined by embarrassing defense in his home finale, then struck out 10 over 5 13 innings at Coors Field to end the first half.

Still, the rebound was good enough to reignite trade interest, and the Sox tipped a move when they rearranged their rotation for the second half and had Quintana bringing up the rear.

Aside from wetbutt23 on Reddit, nobody knew where Quintana was going. The trade remained secret on the traditional rumor mill until the White Sox themselves announced the deal with the Cubs for four prospects.

Quintana struck out 12 Baltimore Orioles over seven scoreless innings in his North Side debut, although that might have set expectations too high. From there, he continued his 2017 trend of coming up a bit short of his career run-prevention numbers, osting a 4.07 ERA over his final 13 regular-season starts.

Despite making 32 starts for a fifth straight season, he failed to throw 200 innings for the first time since 2013. He ended up with just 188, and his 4.15 ERA was a career high.

Still, his effort helped push the Cubs into the postseason, where he threw one great start, one adequate start, and one dud. The last one just happened to take place in an elimination game, but overall, it seems like that’s what one might expect from a guy like Quintana. He’s more about big-picture stability than single-game dominance, and with Jake Arrieta hitting free agency and rotation questions elsewhere, the Cubs will enjoy the former aspect of his presence.

The White Sox received

*Eloy Jimenez, a power-hitting corner outfielder who entered the season a top-15 prospect and only bolstered his status further throughout the season.

Before the trade, he hit a .271/.351/.490 in Myrtle Beach, which is respectable for a 1) 20-year-old 2) in a pitcher-friendly park in the Carolina League 3) while battling shoulder and hamstring issues that often relegated him to DH. When he jumped to Winston-Salem, so did his performance. He hit .345/.410/.682 over 29 games for the Dash, made even more impressive by a relatively paltry 17.2 percent strikeout rate.

That performance eventually earned him a promotion to Double-A for the last three weeks of the season. He played 18 games for the Barons, hitting .353/.397/.559 and making Regions Field look small (all three of his Double-A dingers came at home).

Now he’s plying his trade for the Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .400/.405/.714 with two homers, a triple and three doubles over eight games. If he can carry this trajectory into spring training and Triple-A, you’ll hear some clamoring for a call-up come May.

*Dylan Cease, a pitcher who cracked top-100 list two-plus years after the Cubs drafted him out of Georgia’s Milton High School in the 2014 draft. He was first-day talent, but signed well over slot in the sixth round because he needed Tommy John surgery. He didn’t start his pro career until 2015, and he didn’t pitch a first full season until this year.

The Cubs were very cautious with his workload with A-ball South Bend, only letting him throw past five innings once (six no-hit innings against Great Lakes). Part of that was guiding him through a full five-month season, and part of it was due to a sprained ankle he suffered in mid-May that cost him nearly four weeks.

When healthy, he showed he still had a high-90s fastball and a power curve, and that was enough to make him the second player in a trade for Quintana. The Sox transferred Cease over to their A-ball affiliate in Kannapolis and kept him there the rest of the season in order to keep the goals modest. His game log shows striking consistency: five innings, few hits, a few too many walks, but plenty of strikeouts.

Alas, he wasn’t able to take the ball when the Intimidators reached the postseason. It was originally called shoulder fatigue, but Cease later referred to it as stiffness. The Sox believe it stemmed from his ankle injury throwing his mechanics out of whack. However it happened, it kept Cease from reaching 100 innings. He finished with 93 between South Bend and Kannapolis, which still more than double his previous high.

*Matt Rose, a 22-year-old corner infielder who showed some pop (14 homers in 65 games) for Myrtle Beach, although with less impressive numbers elsewhere (.227 BA, .281 OBP). Both those numbers trended upward upon reaching the Dash, as he hit .270/.336/.475. He also turned 23 in August.

*Brayant Flete, a 24-year-old utility infielder in the midst of his second consecutive strong showing in the Carolina Legue. He transferred over to Winston-Salem with a .305/.355/.425 line, but his performance took a dive after the trade (.228/.290/.329).

The White Sox fared ...

... well enough. It’s not as exciting a trade as the Sale and Eaton deals because those returns offer multiple combinations for fair-or-better value. In this case, the success of this deal rests squarely on Jimenez’s considerable shoulders.

This isn’t to say Cease can’t matriculate into the White Sox rotation and stand in for Quintana a few years from now, but he’s still in pursuit of his first 100-inning season. Beyond developing the stability to pitch freely, he’ll have to improve his changeup in order to attain the necessary three-pitch starting mix. He’s still a full year away from anybody penciling him into any timetable.

The White Sox are counting on Jimenez to deliver, and anything else is gravy. Fortunately, Jimenez seems the type who embraces a challenge, assuming he remembers what a real challenge looks like.

If Jimenez can deliver on even most of his potential, he’ll bring the centerpiece bat the White Sox rebuild lacked. The Sox seemed intent on trading Quintana for a future star, rather than casting a wide net for rosterable prospects like the Phillies did with Cole Hamels. Time will tell if the Sox found one, but all available evidence at this point suggests they did the best they could.