On Wednesday evening, both Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez, the Chicago Cubs’ top two prospects, were scratched from their minor league games. Trade speculation arose quickly, with many wondering if the Cubs would really part ways with two key pieces of their future for a front-line starting pitcher. On Thursday, news broke that the Chicago White Sox had dealt southpaw Jose Quintana across town to the Cubs in exchange Jimenez, Cease, Matt Rose, and Bryant Flete. This was the first deal between the two Chicago teams in the past eleven years, and it certainly is one of the biggest in recent memory.
After parting ways with Chris Sale and Adam Eaton this offseason, the White Sox finally traded Quintana after plenty of rumors dating back to last year. The returns on Sale, Eaton, and now Quintana have been stupendous, netting the club a plethora of top prospects. In Eloy Jimenez, they added yet another young stud. A 20 year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, Jimenez has displayed plus-tools across the board, specifically his bat. He projects as a 25-30 homer guy with a chance to hit around .300. He has an advanced approach for his age, hitting with power to all fields. His bat speed is pretty incredible, and he’s been able to translate that into games. Last year in the Arizona Fall League, Jimenez hit a ball with an exit velocity of 119 MPH, a feat only Jimenez, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton have accomplished in a game.
The White Sox also added another high-ceiling arm in Dylan Cease. Cease was drafted in the sixth round in 2014, but likely would have been a first-round selection had he not injured his throwing arm in the spring. His fastball has touched triple digits, and his curveball is a nasty put-away pitch when Cease can command it. His changeup needs refinement if he wants to remain a starter. Cease has serious upside as a starter or as a back-end reliever down the line, giving the White Sox farm system even more pitching to fall back on.
Despite relinquishing Jimenez and Cease, the Chicago Cubs still come out of this trade as winners. Quintana carried a high cost, but his team-friendly contract he signed prior to the 2014 season makes him so valuable to a contender like the Cubs. Quintana is signed through the end of next season for just $8,850,000, but he also has two club options for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Each option would cost just $10,500,000 to pick up, meaning Quintana will almost certainly be a Cub until he hits free agency after the 2021 season. His inexpensive contract allows the Cubs to sign more impact players in free agency, and also to work more diligently on an extension for Kris Bryant.
Another element of the deal that may have influenced Theo Epstein to pay a higher price for Jose Quintana could be pricing the Brewers out of the market. Many baseball analysts expected Milwaukee to strike first and take initiative on the trade market. The Cubs instead made the first major move and set a big precedent in the process. After seeing what White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn was able to trade Quintana for, other teams will be expecting top-flight prospects for pitchers such as Sonny Gray, Michael Fulmer, Justin Verlander, and Yu Darvish. If the Brewers were to make a move for Gray, for instance, top prospect Lewis Brinson would have to be involved, and he would just be the centerpiece. Josh Hader may also have to go in any major trade, and the Brewers may be more hesitant to act now that the price on pitching will be higher.
The Cubs still sit 5.5 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central, so they probably need to make another move before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31. Only time will tell which Chicago team wins this trade. Quintana could be terrible on the North Side, and the White Sox prospects may never pan out. For now, though, both the Cubs and White Sox are winners in the first major trade of the 2017 season.