CHICAGO -- The Cubs got a jump on teams looking for starting pitching now and in the future by acquiring Jose Quintana from the crosstown White Sox for top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease plus two other Minor Leaguers.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the deal was not done as a reaction to the first half, which finds the defending World Series champions 5 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central.
"We're in the early stages of what we hope is a long run of a group of guys who we believe in," Epstein said of the core of talented young position players on the Cubs, such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. "This group has won one World Series. Our goal is to win more. We needed to add starting pitching to make that happen."
The Cubs were able to make the trade without touching any of the 25-man roster, which is their preference, Epstein said.
"Despite the bad first half, which we're accountable for, we believe in this group," he said. "We're not looking to sell low on members of our core and we hope to keep it intact if possible and win more World Series with this group."
Of course, the Cubs paid a heavy price by giving up what were the top two prospects in their organization, according to MLB Pipeline, and Jimenez and Cease now rank No. 2 and No. 8, respectively, in a loaded White Sox system.
"This deal had zero-percent chance of happening without both Eloy and Cease in it," Epstein said.
With the trade, the White Sox load up on more elite prospects. Jimenez, 20, is the No. 8 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. The outfielder was batting .271 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs in 42 games for Class A Myrtle Beach. Cease, 21, is the No. 63 prospect in baseball. Cease had a 2.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings over 13 starts for Class A South Bend.
Also going to the White Sox are first baseman Bryant Flete, 24, and infielder Matt Rose, 22, who were both playing at Myrtle Beach. (Coincidentally, Myrtle Beach hosted Winston-Salem -- the White Sox's Carolina League affiliate -- on Thursday, and both Flete and Jimenez were in the lineup. Flete went 1-for-3 with a walk and Jimenez was 1-for-4 with 2 RBIs in a 3-2 Winston-Salem win.)
The deal continues what has been a massive rebuild for the White Sox, who now have nine of MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects, including No. 1 overall prospect Yoan Moncada, tying them for the most of any Major League team. Over the winter they acquired Moncada and right-hander Michael Kopech (the No. 11 overall prospect) from Boston in the Chris Sale trade, and right-handers Lucas Giolito (No. 28) and Reynaldo Lopez (No. 36) from Washington in the Adam Eaton deal. And then, in May, they gave a $26 million signing bonus to Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, who now ranks as the No. 23 prospect in MLB, per Pipeline.
According to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi, the Brewers, Yankees and Astros had all expressed interest in Quintana, and keeping him away from the division-leading Brewers is an added bonus for the Cubs, who were clearly trying to upgrade their rotation. Morosi reported that the Cubs recently reached out to the Tigers about the availability of Justin Verlander, but the talks never gained traction. The Cubs' starting pitching hasn't been as dominant as it was last season, when the team won the World Series, and Quintana, 28, will definitely give the rotation a boost. The move also helps the Cubs' future, as Quintana is signed through 2018 with $10.5 million club options for '19 and '20, and he is under team control through the '20 season. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are free agents after this season.
A year ago, the Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees for then-top prospect Gleyber Torres, believing the closer was necessary to get them to the World Series. That deal worked. The Cubs have hovered at .500 in the first half this year.
"Honestly, [this trade] didn't have a lot to do with the Brewers," Epstein said. "They're legitimate, a strong contender."
Quintana, who will make his Cubs debut Sunday against the Orioles at Camden Yards, has spent all six Major League seasons with the White Sox and was the team's No. 1 starter this year. The left-hander was 4-8 with a 4.49 ERA and 109 strikeouts over 104 1/3 innings in 18 starts. Quintana had a rough April and May, but he posted a 1.78 ERA in five June starts, giving up six runs over 30 1/3 innings.
"Frankly, it's incredibly difficult to trade a player like Quintana, perhaps even more so because of the type of person he is and what he's meant to this organization," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "The Cubs are getting not only a great pitcher who we expect will thrive for them, but also a tremendous clubhouse presence and a great person. It's not easy to let someone like that walk out the door."
This was first trade between the two Chicago since Nov. 16, 2006, when the White Sox sent Neal Cotts to the Cubs for David Aardsma and Carlos Vasquez, but anyone who thought the crosstown teams couldn't make a deal misjudged the respective front offices.
"This notion that we wouldn't do business with them because they're in town, or somehow we would actually take an inferior baseball deal for non-baseball reasons -- because of emotion or a rivalry, or something totally unrelated to putting the best possible team on the field for the next several years, is frankly somewhat laughable," said Hahn.
Epstein said he talked to Hahn shortly after the Draft in June, but wasn't optimistic. The Cubs had tried to acquire Chris Sale from the White Sox as well, but Hahn was asking for Bryant at that time.
Hahn reached out to Epstein on Sunday, the deal was agreed to in principle Tuesday night and finalized on Wednesday night.
"This is the type of deal we've been looking to make for a long time," Epstein said. "In the end, it ended up being a surprising dance partner and a great baseball trade."
The upcoming Interleague home-and-away series July 24-27 between the two teams should be interesting if Quintana pitches.
What's next for the Cubs?
"This deal gives us a chance to step back and survey the rest of the market," Epstein said. "A lot of it will depend on how we play. We need to play well coming out of the gates. We'll assess what we want to do based on how we play and how realistic we feel the run is this year."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Quintana has already begun to rebound from a slow start to the season -- posting a 2.70 ERA since the outset of June -- and he should continue to trend in the right direction following the trade across town. With the support of a talented Cubs team and a boost from his switch to a friendlier league and park, Quintana should be a lineup fixture in all fantasy formats during the second half. Meanwhile, deep-league owners who have been utilizing Eddie Butler or Mike Montgomery should plan for both to lose their rotation spots when Lackey and Kyle Hendricks return from the disabled list in the coming days.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.