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July 13, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Chicago Blockbuster

by Bryan Grosnick, Jeffrey Paternostro, Greg Goldstein and George Bissell



IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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Acquired OF-R Eloy Jimenez, RHP Dylan Cease, 1B-R Matt Rose, and INF-L Bryant Flete from Chicago Cubs in exchange for LHP Jose Quintana. [7/13]

Jimenez is one of the best prospects in baseball. He looks the part of an All-Star, power-hitting corner outfielder, and the tools and minor-league performance both back that lofty projection. The biggest impact tool here is the pop. It’s literally light-tower power. It’s comfortably 70 raw at present. Oh, and keep in mind that Jimenez is only 20 years old and still has a bit of projection left in his 6-foot-4 frame. This could be the fully monty at physical maturity. He’s already getting a lot of that power into games as well. There’s some swing and miss here, but he has an advanced enough approach that the "grip it and rip it" stratagem is viable. And while the swing is leveraged, it isn’t overly long and Jimenez remains balanced throughout. It is the picture of controlled violence. There’s potentially 30-plus home runs in the profile eventually, and it could come with an average-to-above hit tool as well.

Defensively, well, he’s likely a left fielder long term. He’ll be fine there, although presently the glove is a bit raw. It’s the bat that’s going to carry the profile, though. Fortunately it is a heckuva bat. Jimenez is a potential role 7 outfielder, with a relatively safe first-division-regular fallback position given he's still in A-ball. That does seem like a lot to give up, but the Cubs didn’t really have another prospect who could headline a Quintana deal, at least not without raiding the 25-man roster (not an option for a team making a win-now move like this). Still, you’d be forgiven for thinking the price was a bit steep, but how steep depends on your feelings on the second piece in the deal, Cease.

When Cease is on the field, the results have been excellent. The fastball has been more mid-90s than high 90s this year as a starter, but there's plenty of velocity. He is a plus athlete with big arm speed and he can put his heavy four-seamer where he wants. The heater alone has been too much for Midwest League bats. Cease also features a low-70s curve with big depth and hard bite at its best. It’s a potential plus offering with command refinement. The changeup is a work in progress, but there’s potential for it to be an average major-league offering, the final piece of the puzzle that would make him a mid-rotation starter.

However, Cease’s current high for innings in a season was set this year. He’s thrown 51 so far. He has a Tommy John surgery on his resume already. He’s a bit old for the Midwest League because of the lost time. He has a slim frame and is unlikely to add much more physical bulk/strength. If you think he’s a late-inning reliever the White Sox still made out quite well here, but the overall package seems reasonable. You just aren’t getting a “buy-low” discount of any sort based on Quintana’s mediocre first half. We can actually quibble now about how much "worse" it makes the deal, given the increasing share of innings thrown by bullpens, and the potential for Cease to be deployed as a multi-inning weapon late. In either role, he’s comfortably a top-101 prospect and did get discussed for our midseason top 50. We may not know the ultimate winner and loser of this deal—if any—for a few years, but we can say that the Cubs' farm system has taken a massive hit to bolster their chances to cash in again in this contention cycle. —Jeffrey Paternostro

Rose is a tall, skinny, 22-year-old first baseman who uses a leveraged swing to generate a solid amount of game pop. He’s hitting for quality power in High-A (14 homers) this season. However, he’ll be prone to strike out even more than he does now because of a lack of plus bat speed and a long swing path. A former college pitcher, Rose only played first base in the series I saw him, but his plus-plus arm will play at the hot corner. Has the potential to be a future bench bat.

Flete is a smaller, 24-year-old second baseman who’s hitting for a good average in High-A (.305). However, he’s more of a poke hitter who’ll have trouble driving the ball for even gap power at the higher levels, while making lots of weak contact because of his lack of balance in the box. Projects as organizational infield depth. —Greg Goldstein

Fantasy Impact

Eloy Jimenez

“A 30-homer slugger with (or without) the average,” wrote Bret Sayre and Ben Carsley regarding Jimenez, whom they ranked as the seventh-best dynasty prospect on their midseason top-50 list. His offensive upside is off the metaphorical charts. Despite being one of the youngest hitters in High-A, the 20-year-old has recorded a .271/.351/.490 slash line with 16 extra-base hits (eight home runs), while striking out in just 20 percent of his 174 plate appearances. There’s no question this deal accelerates Jimenez's big-league trajectory, putting him on track to debut in Chicago sometime next season, while also establishing him as one of the clear centerpieces of the White Sox's rebuilding effort. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Guaranteed Rate Field is one of the most favorable parks in the American League for right-handed power.

Fantasy owners shouldn’t ignore the impact a dramatic league-wide uptick in home runs, which may be tied to a change in the baseball itself, has had on the overall landscape. It certainly puts a damper on the immediate appeal of a power-oriented profile like Jimenez. However, there is no guarantee that this recent trend won’t reverse course in the future. Simply put, the majority of his long-term value hinges on whether he can make enough contact (which he has done so far) to avoid being a batting average liability. If he does, Jimenez has the raw talent required to evolve into an elite four-category contributor and a certified fantasy monster. –George Bissell

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired LHP Jose Quintana from Chicago White Sox in exchange for OF-R Eloy Jimenez, RHP Dylan Cease, 1B-R Matt Rose, and INF-L Bryant Flete. [7/13]

The word of the day is: inevitable. This blockbuster move doesn’t have the same cautious inevitability as the Cubs winning the World Series after rebuilding under curse-ender extraordinaire Theo Epstein. It doesn’t have the same entropic inevitability of an incredibly fortunate 2016 squad seeing its defense and pitching slide back to earthbound levels in 2017. It doesn’t even have the banal inevitability of Kyle Hendricks regressing after the Cy Young season that no one expected.

What we have here is flashy inevitability, something akin to the sixth installment of a Fast and Furious movie franchise. This move is the Transaction Analysis equivalent of Vin Diesel driving a muscle car through a shopping mall or an airplane or the center of the earth. It is big and bold and fun and we all knew it was coming, either today or tomorrow or soon. See, for the past few years we’ve been talking about how this post-rebuild Cubs team would need to deal from their massive stock of touted young position player prospects to acquire the one thing every team needs more of: good, consistent starting pitching. Now, that’s finally happened. And it brings the still-underrated Quintana across town.

You could consider 2017 a down season for Quintana, but doing that only highlights just how good he's been up until this point. Nestled snugly in the shadow of Chris Sale’s brilliance until his rotation-mate changed Sox, all Quintana did was improve from season to season, logging 200 innings on the regular. He amassed a very respectable 13.1 WARP in his seasons prior to this one on the strength of a four-pitch mix that never relied on a premium strikeout rate; Quintana has always carried good whiff numbers, but he excelled at limiting walks and homers as well. Per our cFIP and DRA metrics, his “down” 2017 isn’t really that far down at all, as those numbers are well in line with his career marks.

What’s changed is an uptick in all of his “three true outcomes.” His homers allowed have gone up slightly, and he’s issuing significantly more walks, but he’s also striking out more than a batter per inning. He’s maintained the slight velocity gains that have helped him improve year-over-year, but he seems to be working outside the strike zone more often. It’s possible that the shift to the solid framing on Willson Contreras could make a difference in that regard, but even at the level he’s at now, Quintana is an upgrade for literally any rotation in baseball. He’ll slot in behind Jon Lester and, best of all for the Cubs, he’ll likely stay there for the next three-and-a-half seasons.

Quintana’s on a team-friendly contract with two easy-to-exercise options after 2018, meaning that he’s likely on a three-year, $30 million deal after the 2017 season comes to a close. (So if you’re wondering why Quintana cost a prospect the caliber of Eloy Jimenez, that’s why. This is decidedly not a rental.) With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey likely hitting the bricks at the end of 2017, Quintana gives the team not just a push for the current season, but a stabilizing force through 2020. Because he doesn't cost very much money, the Cubs can certainly afford to find another starter of magnitude on the open market this offseason. Best of all, by making this deal a couple weeks before the deadline, the Cubs get perhaps two or three “bonus” starts from Q, and every little advantage will count for a team that will need to claw its way into the playoffs.

While the short- and medium-term future of this franchise still looks strong—and with their front-office talent and market, they’re as well positioned as any team to reload on the fly—I think we’re starting to finally see how this potential dynasty could end a few years down the road. With Jimenez and Cease over on the South Side and guys like Ian Happ, Albert Almora, and Jeimer Candelario playing in the majors, the Cubs’ farm system now looks … blah. The huge wave of young talent has crested and now the team just has talent. Jimenez was the far-away guy, the prospect you could see rising up and making a huge impact in 2019 perhaps, and now that morsel of potential is in the American League.

I think today is the end of Phase 2 of the Cubs’ 2010s narrative. First, there was the bottom-out rebuild, as the team strove to collect assets—that was Phase 1. Phase 2 was the rise, cultivating the young talent, adding the complementary pieces, and reaching the heights that culminated in a legendary World Series victory. But now it’s Phase 3: we are already at the tip of the mountain. With few (likely) impactful prospects left in the farm system, it remains to be seen how long the Cubs can keep the dice rolling as a good-to-elite major-league team. I personally think there will be an extended plateau period where the talents of players like Quintana, Anthony Rizzo, and Kris Bryant carry the team to extended success and multiple World Series, but in the distance you can see a time in which salaries rise and the team struggles to fill voids from within. (Take heart, Cubs faithful, that might not be until the next decade.)

Here’s a last thought: does this set off some sort of arms race, with the Brewers making a deal for one of the other big starters on the trade market? Chris Archer or Sonny Gray might help prop up a shaky Milwaukee rotation, but with the Crew more than a handful of games ahead of the sleeping giant in Chicago, do they move or stand pat? Whatever happens before the deadline, this is a blockbuster that likely sets up some sort of sequel in 2018 and beyond. The Cubs are dead serious about returning to the playoffs to defend their championship, and if they get there this new acquisition could well be their best starting pitcher. —Bryan Grosnick

Fantasy Impact

Jose Quintana

This is a big deal. Every starting pitcher making the AL-to-NL jump has their fantasy value bolstered simply by facing weaker lineups, but the impact may be even greater for someone like Quintana. The 28-year-old southpaw’s durability and consistency remain his signature calling cards. He’s on pace to eclipse the 200-inning plateau for the fifth consecutive year, and has also posted a sub-4.00 DRA every season during that span. He’s always been snake-bitten in the wins department, but that should change rather quickly with the Cubs explosive, young offensive nucleus providing plenty of run support. Their defense has been underwhelming relative to last season's historic effort, but it’s still an upgrade over the White Sox.

Per Mike Gianella’s midseason valuations update, Quintana has been a mild disappointment this season, barely cracking the top-40 AL starting pitchers. There are reasons to doubt Quintana based on his lackluster first half, but the combination of weaker lineups, improved defense, and better run support far outweigh the red flags in his profile. With the trade deadline still two weeks away, it may be tempting for some NL-only owners to make a conservative FAAB bid with the hope that a bigger fish comes over. Remember, there are no guarantees. Quintana may ultimately end up the most talented player to switch leagues, so don’t hesitate to make an aggressive bid. If you need the pitching, 50-60 percent of your remaining FAAB budget isn’t unreasonable. —George Bissell

Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here
Jeffrey Paternostro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeffrey's other articles. You can contact Jeffrey by clicking here
George Bissell is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see George's other articles. You can contact George by clicking here

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