MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

To contend, Rockies need to land Quintana

To contend, Rockies need to land Quintana

If the Rockies weren't serious about their 2017 effort, they wouldn't have given a five-year, $70 million contract to Ian Desmond that also cost them the No. 11 overall Draft pick. With a new manager in Bud Black, one of the great young players in the game in Nolan Arenado, an improving young rotation and a lineup that, because of the Coors Field conditions, is a good bet to score five runs a game again in '17, this is a club that believes it can make waves in the National League West.

But it still needs another piece, and that piece is Jose Quintana.

We've been talking about Quintana's market for more than a month now, so you're familiar with his sterling track record (a 118 ERA+ over the past four seasons) and puny price tag (he's guaranteed $15.9 million over 2017-18, with two team options worth a total of $22 million for '19-20).

Quintana's brilliant start

You're also familiar with the "usual suspects" in Quintana's market, and the Rox aren't one of them.

The Pirates are known to be in the Quintana market, but their market realities (they are greatly dependent on their young and controllable talent) and division realities (would Quintana be enough to put them over the mighty Cubs, or would they be fighting for yet another battle with the whims of the Wild Card round?) complicate their trade equation.

The Astros, looking to improve an iffy rotation, are in the Quintana market, but they've dipped into their depth quite a bit in the last year and a half (for Carlos Gomez, Ken Giles and most recently Brian McCann) and might be leery of further gutting the upper levels.

The Yankees have been tied to Quintana, but they rate as a dubious fit, considering they've only recently replenished their farm system and are still building.

As for the Rockies, they've been seen more as a speculative fit than one tied to any specific evidence of involvement, but -- as the out-of-nowhere Desmond deal illustrated -- you can still operate in relative secrecy, even in the age of Twitter.

If Jeff Bridich and Co. aren't making a concerted effort to land Quintana, they ought to be. In a market short on starting help, he's the arm that could elevate them from their current status as possibly frisky up-and-comer capable of cracking .500 to a level where you'd have to consider them a legit October contender.

The Desmond deal and the Mike Dunn deal didn't necessarily do that, though they did provide the potential for modest improvements.

Dunn on choosing Rockies

FanGraphs projects the versatile Desmond to be worth 1.3 wins above replacement in 2017, after the Rockies got a minus-1.3 mark from their first basemen in '16. And while the site pegs Dunn to an ERA north of 4, it sees enough value in Adam Ottavino, Carlos Estevez and a hopefully healthy Jake McGee to put the 'pen down for middle-of-the-pack 3.3 WAR after a 2.1 mark that ranked 21st in the Majors last year.

The scrutiny over the financial aspects of the Desmond contract is well-deserved. It sure looks like Mark Trumbo, who has the power more befitting the first-base spot Desmond will occupy, might wind up with a lesser average annual value.

But I'm not going to use this space to rake the Rockies over the coals for that one, as some have. Nor am I going to indulge in the rumor mill that had the Rox looking to move Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez to accommodate Desmond in the outfield and allow them to sign Trumbo or somebody else.

I'm just going to propose that Blackmon, under two more years of control, is not going to land Colorado a starter in the realm of a Quintana (the Blue Jays reportedly balked when the Rockies asked for Marcus Stroman in Blackmon discussions). One year of Gonzalez isn't going to buy you much, either, particularly with the trade and free-agent markets saturated with corner-outfield bats. The Rox might be more intent on extending CarGo, anyway.

The Rockies have enough power at enough positions that they can sacrifice our "traditional" expectations for the level that position ought to provide and instead keep Desmond in the role he was intended to occupy. He's likely a defensive upgrade for them, and Coors Field should ensure his offensive numbers are solid.

So leave the lineup alone, and use what has become one of the stronger farm systems in the game to get Quintana, who would add a needed dose of reliability.

The Rockies, for the first time in a long time, have the makings of a solid rotation. Jon Gray, as referenced in this piece by my colleague Mike Petriello, has ace stuff and will look to be more consistent with it. Chad Bettis had 17 quality starts last season and is thankfully cancer-free after a scary bout with testicular cancer. Tyler Chatwood, a two-time Tommy John alum, had a good 2016 with a very Coorsian split (1.69 ERA on the road, 6.12 at home). Tyler Anderson gets by with guile and command and is, at the very least, an asset in the back end of the rotation.

Gray's franchise record 16 K's

As it stands, Colorado figures to have competition among the likes of Jeff Hoffman, Eddie Butler and German Marquez for the fifth spot.

Anderson is the only guy in that starting group who is left-handed, so Quintana would add better balance to the Rockies' rotation formula. We can also reasonably suspect, based on the aforementioned four-year sample, he'll give you 200 or so above-average innings.

Can Quintana survive Coors Field? I don't know. Can anybody? It's the question that has vexed his organization from its inception.

What I can tell you is that while Quintana doesn't generate a ton of whiffs (7.4 strikeouts per nine for his career), he did have the third-most valuable fastball in the game last season, per FanGraphs' linear weights metric, and that should translate to Colorado.

One thing that would potentially make the Rockies nervous -- aside from the acquisition cost -- would be the elevation's potential effects on a curveball that already didn't have a great deal of depth in 2016 and was torched for a .448 slugging percentage. Perhaps Quintana, who rightly scaled back his curve usage in favor of more four-seamers and two-seamers in '16, could continue his ongoing evolution with the return of a cutter he once used frequently (it was an effective pitch for him in the extremely limited sample of 17 uses in '16).

Coors Field will always be the Rockies' pitching bugaboo, but with so much upward momentum in his organization, it shouldn't scare them from making an effort to land a top-flight starter in 2017. The cost would be substantial. To get Chris Sale, the Red Sox gave up three of their top 10 prospects, per MLBPipeline.com, as well as No. 28. It might take a similar package to land Quintana, who has an additional year of control attached to him, and that might mean a package of, say, Hoffman, Marquez, outfielder Raimel Tapia and a lesser prospect (I've purposefully avoided including No. 1 prospect and former No. 3 overall pick Brendan Rodgers to keep the Colorado-area hate mail to a minimum, though of course the Sox would ask for him).

Maybe this is a conversation best revisited midseason, when other arms could be available and the Rockies have a better idea of what they have on their hands.

But if they are as serious as they showed with the Desmond deal, then acquiring Quintana is the way for the Rox to venture into 2017 with their best foot forward.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.