It’s strange, I know, to place the Rays among those who may be looking to add a veteran pitcher like Jose Quintana. The prominent lefty has been a 3.5 WAR or better pitcher since 2013, reaching a high of 5.1 WAR in 2014 and 4.8 WAR in both 2015 and 2016. To put that into perspective, it made him the 10th most valuable SP in terms of WAR for 2016.
Overall, his statistics speak for themselves; you can have a glance here if you’d like to brush up on how impressive they actually are.
His performance thus far and their overall outlook have allowed Rick Hahn, White Sox GM, to take the following stance on a potential Quintana trade:
"If we were to move him, it's going to be a function of the return, [and] ... dictated by his performance, the amount of control left, availability of alternatives and all that. It could get to the point where our ask decreases or it's conceivable our ask increases in the future. But frankly, there just hasn't been an offer on the table that has made us feel like, 'Boy we better move now or we are going to be kicking ourselves.'
"All we are evaluating right now is the appropriateness of the return today and whether it makes sense to move forward on that," Hahn said. "There's no economic pressure. There's no timing pressure. It's more about making sure if we were to make a major move, that we are getting an appropriate return."
With this in mind, this article considers how the Rays could strengthen their own rotation and lift them above others in the AL East standings.
AL East Pitching Health Issues
The pitching health concerns are plentiful in the AL East.
In recent weeks, questions have arisen about the Orioles Chris Tillman who received a platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) injection in his shoulder. The staff leader is going through a slow process back to form in hopes he can stave off the need for any surgery. His team mate, Zach Britton, who many had pegged as a Cy Young candidate in 2016, is dealing with soreness in his left side.
For the Red Sox, the most recent news on co-Ace David Price has been encouraging but still leaves questions about his overall health for 2016. Any time you need to visit with Dr. Andrews before the season begins there will be lingering concerns. His team mate, Steven Wright, has been dealing with shoulder bursitis, and rotation hopeful Drew Pomeranz received a stem cell shot in his elbow after the season ended.
Meanwhile, the Yankees ace, Masahiro Tanaka, dealt with small flexor mass strain in his right forearm last year, and is still dealing with a partially torn elbow ligament that’s plagued him since 2015. Pineda, healthy for the first time for a full season in 2016, has yet to show his full potential, while C.C. Sabathia has dealt with numerous injuries over the years and underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee this off season.
The Blue Jays seem like they’re in full health right now, healthy as could be, but Aaron Sanchez saw a significant jump in IP last year (100), and that excludes the 11.2 innings he threw in the post-season. History hasn’t been kind of that kind of innings jump. And if you thought that was a significant increase in IP, his team mate, Marcus Stroman, threw 204 innings, plus 11.1 in post-season, after only throwing 27 in 2015, plus 19.1 in post-season. Those are two arms the Jays cannot afford to lose.
The point being that with most AL East teams having some form of injury concern, they may also become very interested in the services of someone like Quintana. And what about the Rays themselves? Are they immune to the injury bug?
The Alex Cobb Conundrum
The point I want to make before advocating for a Quintana trade is the role Alex Cobb may have with the Rays in 2017.
Like it or not, a great performance from Cobb through June would likely lead to his being traded unless he’s willing to accept a team friendly deal with the Rays (which is still a possibility).
With possible trade partner examples like the Cubs (Maddon Reunion), the Dodgers, or the Pirates (McCutchen?), it just wouldn’t be prudent for the Rays to keep Cobb on board only to lose him post-season as a free agent. And it’s not like them to let an asset like a core of the rotation go for no return at all.
This tells us a few things: first, the Rays either have to find an internal or external option to fill Cobb’s position in the rotation by the end of July, and second, if any of their other starters struggle or have health issues they could be looking to add two.
Trading Cobb before July could help the Rays get the big RHB they’ve been rumoured to be chasing this offseason. That in itself makes him a potent trade piece. Imagine how much they could get if Quintana wasn’t available to teams looking to add a SP!
Quintana being off the market would allow the Rays to deal Cobb from a stronger position, and would have already benefited from at least a half season’s worth of Cobb.
Or, if things work out and they want to ride out the remainder of the season with Cobb onboard, they do still have that option as well.
Still, with these thoughts in mind, and an affordable arm like Quintana available on the trade market, why not make a bid for his services and take him off the market?
The Rays and White Sox are a Trade Match
There are many reasons the Rays and White Sox are a match for this trade.
The White Sox are not going to trade Quintana cheaply, so we know that landing Qunitana is going to hurt in terms of players and/or prospects.
The Rays were recently ranked as having the 11th best system in MLB by Baseball America and more importantly have top prospects at positions which may interest the White Sox most (C/1B/LF/SP/RP).
I’m not going to attempt to point at specifics on this front since every organization rates players differently, but needless to say that the Rays have plenty of talent to make such a deal happen without severely hindering their overall prospect depth.
Feel free to come up with your own scenarios in the comments, however, as we’re very curious to see what creative deals fans see as being plausible.
Not just about the prospects
I know most will immediately name off the top Rays pitching prospects as part of a requirement in trade, however, it’s not just about the prospects when we look at the Rays. Players such as Matt Duffy (4 yrs of control) and Mallex Smith (5 yrs of control) could be of interest and help bring down the cost in terms of top-end prospect talent.
Should one - or how about both? - of those players be included, it’s possible that the White Sox lower their demands when it comes to the remainder of the package? It’s possible.
In short, it’s not all about the prospects. The Rays also have players on the 25-man roster that could be of serious interest to the White Sox and also make sense from a Rays point-of-view, and they offer the years of control that they’d be looking for in return.
The Rays would have to find some budget room to fit Quintana into their payroll, although he’s still a bargain relative to market value:
The bonus for the Rays lies in 2 options that are available for the 2019 and 2020 season, since they both lessen the impact of a possible injury down the road. Even by Rays standards, Quintana is a very affordable top-end starter that the Rays could pair up with Archer to lead the way for the next 4 years.
The Rays may have been willing to offer as much as $10M for Wieters, so the $6M owed for 2017 is a non-issue. For 2018, it’s also a non-issue because the cost can be offset by 3 players who are expected to leave in free agency (Colby Rasmus $5M, Logan Morrison $2.5M, and Alex Cobb $4.2M).
Another point financially speaking is that the Rays would essentially be getting Quintana at a similar cost they were hoping to buy out Odorizzi’s arbitration years for, indicating their willingness to pay Quintana’s salary costs. Those 3 years were expected to cost the Rays $20M-$25M. Adding up the 2017-2019 seasons for Quintana, you get $24.85M, well within that Rays budgeting price point, and for a much more polished pitcher.
Even if the Rays wanted to even things up by off loading some salary in the deal, mainly due to the large number of arbitration eligible players they have to sign next offseason (16), the White Sox seem to have room in their budget to make that happen.
No Rivalry, Differing Focus in 2017
The Rays and White Sox play in different divisions and are headed in different directions for the 2017 season.
While the Rays did lose more games than expected in 2016, their power surge provided a glimpse of what the team could produce and provided thoughts about how much more potent it could be if they just had more runners on base when power struck. Most expect their fortunes to change for the better as early as 2017. With the pitching talent to support the power, and to overcome what was a frustrating first half of 2016, the Rays are heading into 2017 hoping to chase a playoff position.
The White Sox, meanwhile, are in full rebuild mode and have done a tremendous job thus far adding top-end talents with an eye towards 2018 and beyond, which is what may make them interested in players like Duffy and Smith.
Maybe it’s a crazy idea, but there’s something that makes sense about adding a veteran SP that’s as talented and affordable as Jose Quintana. It doesn’t happen often that a player is available on the trade market with four years of control, all well-within the Rays budget financially speaking.
Slotting Jose Quintana in with Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi at the top for a full season, the Rays would be able to lower the expectations and demands on youngsters like Jose De Leon early on. It also slots Alex Cobb as the 4th starter, and Blake Snell as the 5th starter, which would arguably make it one of the best rotations in MLB.
Even if this trade were to cost you a high quality prospect arm such as Brent Honeywell.
Not only do I believe such a move would strengthen the Rays rotation for a full season, but I also believe it all-of-the-sudden takes the best arm available to their rivals off the market and also makes one of their starters - Alex Cobb - one of the most sought after when the trade deadline comes around.
By then Jose De Leon - and others - should be knocking the door down and be better prepared to take on the challenge of a playoff position chase.
After seeing how detrimental a slow start can be to a team’s season in 2016, the Rays adding Quintana would significantly increase the chances that such a let down is avoided.
Message to Rays front office: Go get Quintana to strengthen your rotation today. Allow Cobb to build up his trade value, and allow your young pitchers to build up confidence as a group in AAA. When the time is right, consider trading Cobb to strengthen your playoff chase. You’ll reap the rewards on five fronts: strong and affordable top two starters through 2020 (Archer-Quintana), a much stronger trade position come July (Cobb), more seasoning for your young starters - setting them up for success (De Leon and others), and an increased chance of making the playoffs in 2017 while simultaneously lessening the chance your rivals have to address their shortcomings.
Here’s a 2016 sampling of what the Rays would be getting.