The Cubs made a trade Thursday that they had to make. Four prospects for White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana, a left-hander who has been as reliable as Greenwich Mean Time? Yes, please.
It’s a trade that is all about the future, which is fine if the future is what floats your boat. And it apparently floats an armada, judging by Cubs fans’ reaction to the trade on social media. But the interesting part is how little the present seems to matter anymore. I would never say the Cubs are giving up on this season after a 43-45 first half, but the defending World Series champions and their fans sure seem much more preoccupied with the shiny object in the distance that is Quintana’s contract. The team will have control of him for the next three years. Listen to the crowd roar!
But what happened to this season? Or are we supposed to forget that it ever took place?
“We love what it has the chance to do for the team this year,” team president Theo Epstein said of the trade. “But the reality is, it’s a deal we’re looking for the long haul.”
The Cubs traded their top two prospects, outfielder Eloy Jiminez and hard-throwing pitcher Dylan Cease, along with two other minor-leaguers, to the Sox for Quintana. They think they have a good chance of winning a very down National League Central this season, and the Quintana acquisition certainly helps. But that’s not what this is about, we’re told. It’s not about addressing the past three months of sustained mediocrity. It’s about addressing the next three or four years.
That’s great if you’re the kind of person who lives for tomorrow. If you’re the kind of person who thinks winning back-to-back World Series would be a very cool thing, it seems a little off-point. That’s not meant as a shot at Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer. It’s their job to think ahead. But if you’re a Cubs fan, it seems wrong-headed to be rooting for the Quintana trade for any reason other than getting this season back on track.
That’s a long way of saying: Talk to me about 2018, 2019 and 2020 some other time. Tell me something good about a team that has lost its way in 2017 after winning the World Series the season before.
Quintana should immediately help an underperforming Cubs rotation, but he’s not Rick Sutcliffe riding to the rescue. He’s not a messiah for this season or any other season. He’s not an ace. He’s a good, reliable starter who has yet to prove himself on a stage as big as the one he’s about to scale. He’s a nice No. 2 or a very good No. 3 starting pitcher. Please don’t misunderstand — that’s a very good thing.
Quintana doesn’t strike me as a pitcher who puts a team on his back and takes it for a long ride. He had a 3.51 ERA in his Sox career, which is very good in the American League. The Cubs would love it if all the players who struggled in the first half of the season suddenly come to life. That would have to include Quintana, who was 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA with the Sox this season.
Nothing about the future is promised. The Cubs have the same amount of talent this season as they had last. Hopefully, Quintana’s addition stirs up a roster that has been so vacant-eyed, so strangely lethargic as to be almost unrecognizable. You win the World Series for the first time in 108 years and you respond with a 43-45 first half?
I don’t see Quintana changing that all by himself. I see him as a piece of a puzzle the Cubs will have under contract for the next three years. I see an answer going forward for the possible loss of Jake Arrieta through free agency and for John Lackey’s ineffectiveness.
I’d like to see Kyle Schwarber start hitting. Same with Ben Zobrist. And Arrieta pitching well — I’d like to see that, too.
Trading top prospects was built into Epstein’s long-range plan. Getting young talent is why the Cubs tanked all those seasons and lost all those games. You construct a farm system with the idea that some would-be stars will be used as trade bait when the franchise becomes successful.
But did anyone see things going like this, after a World Series victory for the ages? Before the season began, did anyone see the Cubs trading their top two prospects at the All-Star break because the team was so lifeless? Did anyone envision the Cubs making a trade and then talking about any other season but this one?
There’s only one window that should matter to this team and this town right now. It’s the one that’s open as we speak.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.