Cubs President Theo Epstein insisted Thursday’s blockbuster trade with the crosstown White Sox was twofold: It may help the struggling team in the second half of this season, but it was equally important to think long term.
The two teams shocked their fan bases with the announcement that the Cubs have acquired left-handed pitcher Jose Quintana in exchange for four prospects, including elite minor league outfielder Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease.
The Cubs also sent minor leaguers Matt Rose, a first baseman, and Bryant Flete, an infielder, to the Sox.
Entering this weekend’s three-game series at Baltimore, the Cubs come out of the All-Star break with a record of 43-45, putting them in a second-place tie with the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. They trail the first-place Milwaukee Brewers (50-41) by 5½ games. Quintana will start Sunday’s game for the Cubs.
It’s no secret the Cubs need starting pitching, and the current front office has been deficient in developing pitchers over the first five-plus years of its tenure in Chicago. The starters’ ERA on the big club is 4.66. Last year’s world-championship club featured a starting staff with an ERA of 2.99.
“This wasn’t the type of move that we made as a reaction to the first half or as the reaction to where we are in the standings,” Epstein said. “The overriding consideration was this core that we believe in and what we hope will be a long window of contention.
“We knew what we needed to do to maximize that window.”
Bolstering Epstein’s point is that Quintana is under club control through the 2020 season.
The Cubs’ “core” includes players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ.
Epstein would never say never to trading any of these players – he did tell Sox general manager Rick Hahn that he would not trade Bryant for pitcher Chris Sale last winter – but that the preferred method is to keep the young group together to try to win more than one World Series over the next four or five years.
“We’ve been consistent all along that we don’t have any untouchables, but I think you can read into today’s move just how much faith we have in this group,” Epstein said. “We own the fact that we had a bad first half. But I think it’s important not to overreact to that. It’s important to take a step back and realize where you are.
“This group has won one World Series. Our goal is to win more. We need to add starting pitching to make that happen. You can read into the fact that this trade was made without touching the major-league team at all. And that’s certainly our preference, because despite the bad first half, which we’re accountable for, we believe in this group.”
Epstein added one kicker.
“We’re certainly not looking to sell low on members of our core, and we hope to keep it intact, if possible, to win more World Series with this group,” he said.
In Quintana, the Cubs are getting a mainstay of the Sox’s rotation. This year, the 28-year-old lefty is 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA and a WHIP of 1.32. For his major-league career, all with the Sox since 2012, he is 50-54 with a 3.51 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. Last year, he went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA.
Quintana joins a rotation that includes Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Mike Montgomery and John Lackey (who is on the disabled list).
Epstein said Cubs people “dug really deep analytically and statistically” and came away confident Quintana was the same effective pitcher this year (despite the record) that has made him a sought-after commodity since the Sox made their intentions to rebuild known after last season.
In giving up Jimenez and Cease, the Cubs paid dearly, just as they did last year when they sent prospect Gleyber Torres to the Yankees to get closer Aroldis Chapman. But Epstein and Hahn both made it known that no deal would get done without either prospect being included.
“To Theo’s credit, his people’s credit, the entire Cubs organization, in the end, I think they saw what we saw, that from a logic standpoint and from a baseball standpoint, this deal just made too much sense for both sides,” Hahn said. “They showed the highest level of aggressiveness and willingness to part with premium talent in Jimenez and Cease. They deserved a world of credit. Obviously, we all know they’re in their window of (trying to win) championships, and to their credit, they’re seeking that opportunity to make the most out of the day.”
As far as making more deals, Epstein said much will depend on how the second half goes.
“This still gives us a chance to step back and survey the rest of the market and see if there are other things that make sense for us to do,” he said. “A lot of it will depend on how we play. We need to play well coming out of the gates here. We’ll assess what we’re trying to do in large part based on how we play, where we are in the standings and how realistic we think a World Series run is this year.
“I do like what this trade has a chance to do for us in 2017, but the primary factor really is what it does for our four-plus-year window that we’re looking at going forward.”