There was talk this offseason regarding a trade for White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana. Many people expected the Pirates to be a frontrunner among teams trying to acquire Quintana. Some of the other teams who were interested in Quintana were the Yankees, Astros and the Cardinals. Acquiring Quintana would have given the Pirates a rotation that consisted of Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Jose Quintana, Ivan Nova and Chad Kuhl. This rotation would have had expectations to be one of the best rotations in the NL and would have surely given the Pirates hope of a playoff push.
The White Sox were involved in multiple offseason trades. One of them was their agreement with the Red Sox that sent Chris Sale to Boston. Through these trades, the White Sox added some young talent to their farm system in hope of building a better future for the organization. The White Sox were reportedly asking for either Josh Bell or Austin Meadows, as well as, the Pirates top pitching prospect, Tyler Glasnow.
Debate about whether or not Neal Huntington should make this trade flooded Pittsburgh. Beat writers begged for Huntington to make the trade and most sports-talk radio stations around Pittsburgh thought it would be a great move for the Pirates. After all, Quintana was a proven player with a good track record, who also had years of control left on his contract. The goal was that if Cole could return to his 2015 form, McCutchen return to his usual self and Kang avoid a suspension, the team could make a legitimate World Series push in one of the coming seasons.
As we now know, the Pirates did not make an acquisition from the White Sox and thankfully so. Quintana has struggled this season, posting a 5.30 ERA and an xFIP of 4.34 through 69.2 innings pitched. At the same time, Tyler Glasnow has struggled, but the other pieces of the “would have been” trade have showed signs of development. Josh Bell has acclimated nicely to first base, while greatly improving his defensive ability. Austin Meadows started the season slow, but has rebounded nicely at Triple-A and is providing hope as McCutchen’s eventual replacement in the outfield.
Had the Pirates traded for Quintana, they would have had even more problems than they have right now. With Kang’s visa issues, Marte’s suspension, and McCutchen’s continued struggles, the Pirates would be in an even deeper hole with a struggling Quintana. Subtracting the young upside of either Bell or Meadows and Glasnow would have been a huge problem for the Pirates. Being a low-market team, they are reliant on the progression of these young players and cannot make many mistakes on the trade market.
Quintana has always been a great pitcher, but I would argue that he was never going to be an ace on a World Series team. He has an average strikeout rate and a below average velocity. In 2016, he posted a 3.20 ERA, but his xFIP was a 4.03. This is a cause for a concern of some regression. Not that an xFIP of 4.03 is horrible, but giving up two of the top players in a farm system for a player like this would have been a bad move. Especially on top of everything else that has gone wrong for the Pirates this season.
Many projection systems try to predict how players will play from season-to-season. No projection system is 100% accurate obviously, but a high amount of data goes into these projections and they are accurate more often than not. ZiPS projection system is a system that was developed by Dan Szymborski of ESPN. ZiPS uses history of player data to predict future results for players and teams and is regarded around baseball as one of the most accurate predictors of future results. For the 2017 season, ZiPS projected regression from Quintana. ZiPS gave him an increased ERA of 3.69, which would have been his highest ERA since his rookie season in 2012. Not only did computer generated projection systems sense regression from Quintana, but due to no trade happening in the offseason, I am sure other teams predicted it as well.
As a team, the Pirates hold an ERA of 4.22, which ranks 17th throughout the league. Adding Quintana would have made this mark worse and if Bell were involved, the Pirates would be without a legitimate first baseman. The Pirates are known for rejuvenating player’s careers. Take Ivan Nova for example and what the Pirates have accomplished through him. The list continues to grow for pitchers who come to Pittsburgh and once again turn into above average pitchers. Giving up two top names in the farm system for a pitcher who is simply going to compliment Cole and Taillon was not an ideal option.
Avoiding a catastrophe with Quintana is an underappreciated decision that Huntington made this offseason and won’t get credit for within the Pittsburgh media. Had he given up either Meadows or Bell and Glasnow for Quintana, the Pirates would be scrambling to find young talent to replace that loss. It is easy to criticize acquisitions that Huntington makes that do not pan out, but even well respected baseball analysts thought this would be a great move for the Pirates. The Pirates have one of the best general managers in the league, and sometimes we underappreciate how smart him and his team really are. No, not every decision he makes is perfect, but he has done wonders for the organization for the past 10 years, and I believe he will continue to do so.