In a shocking blockbuster move that could have sudden impact on the National League Central race and that bolsters the Cubs’ rotation for the next three years, the Cubs landed trading-block prize Jose Quintana from the White Sox on Thursday for a four-player package that includes their top two prospects.
No. 1 prospect Eloy Jimenez, a power-hitting outfielder, and No. 2 prospect Dylan Cease, a 100-mph right-hander, go to the White Sox along with minor-league infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.
It promises to be the biggest trade in history between the crosstown rivals.
“They were essential to the package,’’ said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn about Jimenez and Cease. ‘‘The notion that any of us would at any point take an inferior deal simply because of emotion or something not related to what we envision for this franchise, that we would take less when the Cubs clearly had the best offer is laughable.”
Hahn said interest to acquire Quintana was “very strong” outside of the Cubs.
“We had multiple conversations right up to and actually while the medical review was going on yesterday,” Hahn said. “Clubs were still calling us even though we were down the road here. We’re exchanging medicals and we’re committed unless something falls apart. They wanted to be part of this in case something did fall apart. There was strong interest.”
Trade talks with several teams ramped in the last 10 days for Quintana, said Hahn, who touched base with Cubs president Theo Epstein via text message Sunday, spoke with him at the All-Star Game this week (he said they ducked behind a Rawlings exhibit to avoid being seen) and finalized the deal Wednesday night.
“Frankly, I thought the chance of a trade of this magnitude was a long shot,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “I commend them for putting baseball first. It was surprisingly easy to deal with them.”
Quintana is under club control through 2020. The Cubs take over the remaining $3.2 million of Quintana’s salary this year, and he’s owed $8.95 million next year before a pair of $10.5 million club options come into play.
The immediate effect for the Cubs is inserting a durable left-handed starter with an All-Star background into a rotation that has been their Achilles heel all season. Quintana has not missed a start in his career.
A Cubs rotation that led the majors with a 2.96 ERA last year has struggled to produce a 4.66 ERA this year — eighth in the National League — as the Cubs sank to 43-45 at the All-Star break, 5½ games behind the first-place Brewers.
The Cubs also are expected to return 2016 ERA champ Kyle Hendricks from the disabled list in the next few days after he missed the last month with a finger injury.
“We love what it has the chance to do for the team this year,” Epstein said. “But the reality is, it’s a deal we’re looking for the long haul.”
The longer term effect for the Cubs is addressing in a big way how they backfill a rotation that loses Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency after this year.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn traveled to Miami for All-Star events in recent days and is believed to have evaluated Jimenez — Baseball America’s No. 5-ranked prospect — during Sunday’s Futures Game.
For the rebuilding Sox, the move means the Sox now have two of Baseball America’s top 5-ranked prospects (also No. 1 Yoan Moncada) and three of the top 20 (also No. 20 Michael Kopech, another 100-mph right-hander).
They have seven of BA’s top 100, with Cease at No. 83. The Cubs no longer have any in the top 100.
Quintana, 28, was a 2016 All-Star and has a 50-54 record with a 3.51 ERA over the last six seasons with the White Sox. He has pitched at least 200 innings in each of the last four seasons. This season, Quintana is 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts for the White Sox.
Jimenez, 20, is batting .271 with eight home runs and 32 RBI in 42 games with Single-A Myrtle Beach this season. He originally signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 2013, and was the top prospect in the Cubs’ farm system.
Cease, 21, is 1-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 13 starts with Single-A South Bend this season. He was originally selected by the Cubs in the sixth round of the 2014 Draft.
Rose, 22, is batting .227 with 14 home runs and 38 RBI in 65 games with Myrtle Beach this season. He was originally selected by the Cubs in the 11th round of the 2015 Draft.
Flete, 24, is batting .305 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 70 games with Myrtle Beach this season. He was originally signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 2012.