OK, good talk!
But seriously, no.
Quintana, man. That creep can roll. And he’ll be rolling on the north side of Chicago for the foreseeable future, as the Cubs and White Sox made a deal that was announced Thursday morning, sending the lefty across town for a boatload of prospects, headlined by Eloy Jiménez.
On the recent midseason top 50 prospects list from Baseball Prospectus — the one that got us all hot and bothered about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. being moved up to 13th — Jimenez ranked eighth. “Jimenez looks like he will deliver with thirty home run pop and more hit tool utility and approach than you’d expect from the still-accurate-descriptor ‘classic right field profile,'” they explained. He’s a hell of a prospect! And the Cubs gave up three more!
Cue Jays fans salivating over the prospect of getting a haul for J.A. Happ! (I won’t embed the tweet from Gruber’s Mullet, which isn’t Happ-specific, but I assure it involves salivating, and not in a good way — you’ve been warned.)
There are, of course, some rather massive differences between the two pitchers. Since the start of 2013, Quintana has been worth 20 wins to the White Sox — Happ has been worth less than 10 (both per FanGraphs). Even if we jump to when Happ suddenly got good in 2015, his 7.3 WAR doesn’t stack up to Quintana and his 11.6 over that span. Their contracts are quite different, too: Happ makes $13 million this year and next, while Quintana is under contract for $6 million this year, $8.35 million in 2018, and has a pair of $10.5 million club options for the following two seasons.
There is also the matter that Quintana is 28, whereas Happ is 34.
Rather than trying to infer from the package it took to land Quintana what Happ might bring back, we should proooooobably look at a much closer parallel: the Blue Jays’ 26-year-old starter who makes $3.4 million this year, and is controlled for three more seasons (in which he’s arbitration eligible): Marcus Stroman.
Stroman, whose swinging strike rate has ticked up again this year, maybe has the upside to be better than Quintana, but the Cubs’ newest addition has been basically a five win pitcher for the three seasons prior to this one, and despite a rough patch this year is still projected to get to four wins this year, if you look at his current WAR plus his rest of season projections. We should all wish that Marcus Stroman turns into José Quintana!
But should we also wish that Marcus Stroman turns into something like Eloy Jiménez et al? That’s really the question, isn’t it?
Before we leave the question of Happ, I feel I should note that he does have value. It’s just, as Jon Morosi notes in a Thursday piece for MLB.com on the pitching market, so do a lot of starters. Of course, given that it’s Morosi, he might just be trolling some fan bases with the idea that their pitchers are on the market when they’re really not. *COUGH*. But Bob Nightengale of USA Today also took a look at the pitching market, and noted that before they made their move on Quintana, the Cubs had checked on Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, and Michael Fulmer.
Not mentioned: Marcus Stroman. Or, for obvious reasons, J.A. Happ.
The idea of the Jays keeping both of their most marketable under-contract-for-2018 starters (Aaron Sanchez will need to show a little better that his blister has healed before he can rejoin this conversation) jibes with much of what Ross Atkins said in an outstanding piece from Jonah Keri over at the Athletic this week.
Atkins would have put the scare into a lot of Jays fans (read: me) with this quote early on in it:
The contending roster and huge fan interest when he and Mark Shapiro arrived “drove us to say, ‘Let’s win as long as we can.’ If that’s one year, if that’s two years, if that’s five years, great. And at some point, I don’t think anyone ever wants a complete rebuild, but at some level there for most organizations, not just in professional baseball, across all businesses, there are times for resets. And certainly in Major League Baseball, a lot of the really good examples today are teams that have had significant rebuilds. So we didn’t set a firm timeline for when that would be. So much of it was dependent on the performance of our players.”
Given the team’s performance so far, does that mean they’re on the cusp of a massive tear-down? Maybe it should. But later Atkins talks about believing in Troy Tulowitzki (he cites Matt Holiday as a guy who looked finished in terms of exit velocity a couple years ago and has returned from the grave), and Jonah notes that, along with a whiteboard in Atkins’ office listing other teams’ top prospects and young big leaguers (the latter being an interesting fact in its own right, given what adding young big leaguers would mean in terms of timeline), there is “another showing a passel of veteran players who’d be well suited for the Jays’ needs — including plenty of second basemen.”
They really are looking to potentially get better in the near term, in other words. Uh… maybe.
Then, on Josh Donaldson, he said as much, explicitly:
“Josh Donaldson is one of the better players in the game,” Atkins replied. “He makes a ton of sense for us. Moving him, we can’t see the logic in it based on how we’re built to compete for this year and next. What that means beyond, we would like to have more information [before making that decision].”
Built to compete for this year and next? I wrote this week about why that’s probably where this is heading — or, at least, why it’s not so crazy or so grim as people want to believe.
And the thing about giving it a go next year is that in addition to the possibility that it could work, there’s also the possibility that the Jays could end up doing their big reset at that point, and come out looking very good on the other side.
If 2018 doesn’t go well and you want to start looking to 2020, you can sell Donaldson and Happ as rentals. Maybe Pearce can be flipped, if he’s still around. Smoak and Morales might have some value with a year plus left. But the real chips are the guys who next year will have two-plus years of control still remaining: Stroman, Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and maybe Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis.
Perhaps it doesn’t come to that — hopefully it doesn’t come to that — and next year goes well, kids from the farm emerge that look like they’ll be able to fill in the gaps and keep this team contending for years, and everybody’s happy. But if it doesn’t you could have a much better fire sale with those guys then than you could with the team as it is right now. And with Donaldson likely due to be out of the picture in 2019 anyway, you’ll be able to sell it to your fans a lot more easily then, too. Especially since by that point you could give them the promise of Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and whatever close-to-the-majors bounty you reaped in your trades for sometime in mid-2019.
I hate the thought of selling those guys a year from now, and I’d much rather that it ends up making sense to keep them as Blue Jays for a long time, but damn. That’s a pretty nice backup plan.