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Cubs free agent target: José Quintana

Wait, hear me out.

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Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I am well aware that Josê Quintana is kind of a hot-button topic around these parts, given what was traded away for him and his relative lack of performance as a Cub.

I do want to point out that Quintana was having a pretty good year in 2019 through the end of August: 27 games (26 starts), 3.90 ERA, 1.280 WHIP, 3.69 FIP — probably would have been about a 2 WAR season if that had continued.

Instead, Q’s September 2019 was disastrous: Five starts, 11.09 ERA, 2.250 WHIP — and the Cubs actually won two of those games. That, plus the fact that Q was injured for most of the abbreviated 2020 season (four games, only 10 innings) hints that whatever injury he had in 2020 might have started in late 2019. Like a number of other Cubs (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant in particular), Quintana might have tried to push through injury to get the Cubs to the postseason that year, and obviously that didn’t happen.

Quintana had a bad 2021 and signed a $2 million deal with the Pirates before the 2022 season, and somehow, he had one of his best years: 2.93 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, only eight home runs in 165⅔ innings.

And so, entering his age-34 season (he turns 34 in January), Quintana hits the free agent market at a very good time for him.

When Quintana was acquired by the Cubs in 2017, there was no indication that he wouldn’t continue to produce at the rate he did as a member of the White Sox. Why that didn’t happen is somewhat of a mystery, before the injuries. But he appears 100 percent healthy now and both Fangraphs and Keith Law have him ranked in their top 30 free agents entering 2023.

Here’s what Fangraphs says:

Last offseason, Quintana barely extended his career by joining the Pirates on a one-year, $2 million deal. Fast forward a year, and he’s coming off a 4-WAR season. My, how the turn tables. His reward is a probable multi-year deal, but considering how shrewd teams are these days, it likely won’t be for much. That’s for a good reason, though. Nothing about Quintana suggests he’s a different pitcher than before. And yet he somehow stopped allowing home runs, then went to a defensively dominant club at the trade deadline. Counting on home run luck and the fielders behind a pitcher is a bold strategy, one that falls apart more often than not. It worked in 2022, but what about next season and beyond? If all this sounds too pessimistic, well, it kind of is meant to. But credit where it’s due: Quintana turned the clock back on his command. And at the end of the day, he’s a lefty who can eat innings, meaning whichever team signs him won’t completely regret its decision. Just don’t tell that to the Angels.

Here’s what Law says:

Quintana was a surprise All-Star for the White Sox, who signed him out of the Yankees’ system as a minor-league free agent, then got over 1,000 above-average innings from him over about six years before trading him to the Cubs … right on schedule, as it turned out. He’d already showed some signs he was trending down before the deal, but produced 0.0 rWAR across four different seasons for the Cubs, then had a 6.43 ERA in 2021 between the Angels and Giants. The biggest change he made in 2022 was going to his changeup more than he had in any prior season, whether we go by total pitches thrown or percent of the total, and as a result his four-seamer became one of the most effective pitches in all of baseball, saving 22 runs above the average according to Statcast. His curveball still generates some swings and misses, although I don’t think anything in his arsenal is truly plus, and part of his success last year was a massive drop in his home run rate that probably isn’t anything more than good fortune. He’s a solid fourth starter candidate with some variance around that, worth a two-year deal at $12-14 million per year but not longer given his age and long time in the wilderness.

Those both seem accurate, and of course the Cubs have changed both front office and field management since Q departed.

A two-year deal along the lines of what Law mentions is probably about right for Quintana. Oddly, if the Cubs did that, they’d be paying him more on an AAV than they did on his previous contract. And you might say — and you might be right — that the Cubs could likely get equivalent production by just keeping Drew Smyly, who is six months younger than Quintana and probably would cost less.

I’d sort of like to see a Quintana redemption tour on the North Side, but maybe that’s a bit too much money. What say you? Should the Cubs reunite with Q?


José Quintana...

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a contract similar to the one Keith Law proposed
    (14 votes)
  • 12%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but see if they can get him for a bit less money
    (59 votes)
  • 84%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (415 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (2 votes)
490 votes total Vote Now