When it comes to March the adage of, “it’s only spring training” always applies. However, a stat line of six innings pitches, one hit allowed, eight strikeouts, and zero walks/earned runs spurs the mind to action. Sure, it is only spring training, but watching Jose Quintana mow down player after player from the Cleveland team with the name I refuse to type got me to thinking. It brought an idea about Quintana to the forefront of my brain yet again. Because, spring training or not, Quintana is an elite pitcher, and I don’t think the majority of Cubs fans realize what they have in the 29-year-old Colombian.
Before we get into the now any more than we already have, let’s take a trip back to July 13th, 2017. The Chicago Cubs were in the middle of a fight to make the playoffs. Key to their woes was the relative instability of their starting pitching. Injuries and down performances across the board had plagued the 2017 Cubs starters. The team needed firepower, the starters needed some help, and Jed Hoyer knew they needed more than just a stopgap measure. That Thursday, the Cubs sent a quartet of minor leaguers to their cross-town “rival” the Chicago White Sox. In return for Matt Rose, Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete, and Eloy Jimenez, the Cubs got the boost their rotation needed.
For the remainder of 2017, Quintana was an anchor in the Cubs rotation. In 14 games he posted a WARP of 1.6, a DRA of 3.90, a WHIP of 1.10, and a K/9 of 10.5. He wasn’t fantastic in every outing, but Quintana brought much-needed consistency to a rotation that had been in flux most of the year. He held down the fort while the rest of the Cubs starters healed, regained their form, or found some sense of normalcy. I don’t hesitate to say that in 2017 there wasn’t a more important pitcher on the Cubs than Jose Quintana.
Fast forward to the present, and Quintana has been his usual consistently elite self throughout spring training. Based on his track record, I see no reason why he won’t carry over what he is doing in the Cactus League to the National League. Yet, Q, as some have come to call him, seems yet again to be the forgotten man in the mix. All eyes are on the Cubs newest starting pitcher Yu Darvish, while the rest of the attention seems to be directed towards Kyle Hendricks’ new curveball, Jon Lester’s ability to bounce back from a down 2017, and Tyler Chatwood as the new kid on the block. All the while the soft-spoken Quintana simply does his thing, and people don’t really notice.
For whatever reason Cubs fans, and a lot of the media, don’t seem to understand what they have in Quintana. Young, cost-controlled, lefties with elite stuff don’t just grow on trees. A pitcher who goes out year after year and puts up similar numbers that are always near the top of the league, well, that’s just something special. There’s also something about Quintana that can’t be seen in stats. He is a good teammate, he is all about the team. Last year in the playoffs he never balked about pitching on short rest or coming out of the bullpen. And when he didn’t perform up to his usual standards he placed the blame solely on himself. In every imaginable way, the former New York Yankees farmhand is the type of pitcher you want at the head of your rotation and leading your team.
Still, as the calendar creeps closer to another regular season, Quintana is treated more as an afterthought than as the lynchpin of the rotation. Some of that may be residual anger from fans who think the Cubs mortgaged their future by giving up two stud minor leaguers in Cease and Jimenez to land the southpaw. I understand why it hurts to give up the potential those two players possess. In the years to come if Jimenez is hitting bombs against the Cubs while Cease is throwing blanks, it will sting. But, right now, the Cubs as a whole are in their prime years. That means this is the time to go for it, and with Quintana on board, the Cubs can do that, until 2020 and maybe even further if an extension enters the mix. Jose Quintana isn’t just a member of a great rotation, he’s a stud himself, who the Cubs can ride into the playoffs for the next three years. The sting of losing out on great prospects is lessened, if not downright removed, when a person realizes the reality that Quintana has brought about.
That future may be brighter than Cubs fans realize. Quintana is a relatively cheap elite starter, which has allowed the Cubs to improve their team in others ways. The signing of Darvish would have been a lot harder if Quintana made money more appropriate for his talent level. The Cubs may have given up some high end prospects, but with Quintana in tow they had a great 2018 in free agency. More importantly, they have positioned themselves to improve the team even more in free agency in 2019. Perhaps Bryce Harper in Cubbie blue is but a pipe dream, but Quintana’s contract and team control make it a lot more financially feasible to go after and land a generational talent like the Washington Nationals’ right fielder. The near future of this team is as bright as can be, and that’s with Quintana providing a large chunk of the shine.
It’s just spring training for now, but when it counts again there’s one thing that every Cubs fan should know; they can count on Jose Quintana. Whether you want to look at his stats, his stuff, or his makeup as a teammate and a person; he is an A-lister through and through. Players like Quintana don’t come along often. Enjoy him while you can Cubs fans, but most of all just start enjoying the man and all he does for the team you root for day after day. As well as for the future he has made possible.
Lead photo courtesy Rick Scuteri—USA Today Sports