Wednesday Notes: Astros, Nats, Quintana, Prospects, A-Rod

Musgrove. (Presswire)
Musgrove. (Presswire)

The Yankees return to television tonight with a home game against the Phillies, thankfully. We haven’t seen them play since Saturday. Tonight’s game will start at 6:35pm ET and we’ll have a regular game thread at that time. Here are some bits of news to check out in the meantime.

Yankees scouted Astros, Nationals

According to Brendan Kuty, the Yankees had scout (Matt Daley!) in Port St. Lucie over the weekend when the Astros and Nationals visited the Mets. Righty Joe Musgrove started for Houston on Friday while righty Erick Fedde was on the mound for Washington on Saturday. Both pitchers allowed one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings in their outings. Musgrove struck out four. Fedde fanned one.

The Yankees have been connected to both Musgrove and Fedde over the last year or so, but only through speculation. Not hard “they want this guy” rumors. Musgrove was mentioned as a possible target during Brian McCann trade talks (I even wrote a Scouting The Market post) while Fedde’s name came up as a potential piece in an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman trade at least year’s deadline. Obviously neither deal came to fruition.

We could connect some serious dots here. The Astros are said to want another high-end starting pitcher, and with Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out looming, could the Yankees move him? The Nationals don’t have a closer right now and gosh, Dellin Betances sure makes sense for them, no? That said, teams scout either other all the time, and this could be nothing. Still, with the Yankees perpetually seeking young controllable pitching, this report sure is interesting.

Nothing happening with Quintana

According to Jack Curry (video link), the Yankees have “nothing simmering, nothing very hot going on right now” with regards to trade talks with the White Sox about Jose Quintana. Quintana is very much available and last week we heard the White Sox have been scouting the Yankees this spring. See? Teams scout each other all the time. Anyway, point is there’s nothing imminent here, which isn’t surprising.

Quintana started against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last week and was masterful, taking a no-hitter into the sixth before allowing a two-out single and hitting his pitch count. (The bullpen then blew it.) That said, Quintana’s stock didn’t go up or anything. Teams know he’s good. The only way one game can change a veteran pitcher’s trade stock is if he gets hurt. My guess is the White Sox will ramp up their efforts to trade Quintana pretty soon, before he goes all Tyson Ross on them or something.

FanGraphs releases top Yankees prospects, top 100 prospects lists

Over at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen recently released his top 33 Yankees prospects list as well as his top 100 prospects list for all of baseball. White Sox IF Yoan Moncada claims the top spot on the top 100. Here are the eight Yankees in the top 100:

7. SS Gleyber Torres
34. OF Clint Frazier
40. OF Blake Rutherford
53. RHP James Kaprielian
61. OF Aaron Judge
87. OF Dustin Fowler
91. SS Jorge Mateo
97. LHP Justus Sheffield

This is the only top 100 list Fowler has made this year. Interesting. As for the top 33 Yankees prospects list, gosh, it’s massive. I still haven’t finished reading the entire thing. I’m doing it bit by bit. The write-up covers 68 players total. 68!

“Fawning over the system’s obvious talent ignores its most fascinating aspect: the bizarre collection of pop-up arms. New York appears to be in possession of a player-development machine that has conjured several interesting pitching prospects seemingly out of thin air,” says the write-up, referring to guys like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, and Chad Green, all of whom came to the Yankees as okay prospects and have since seen their stock rise considerably. Now hopefully some of these guys will turn into productive big leaguers.

Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)
Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)

A-Rod joins FOX full-time

Alex Rodriguez is officially a full-time broadcaster. Last week FOX announced A-Rod has joined the network and will “serve as a game analyst for select FOX MLB SATURDAY telecasts as well as feature reporter for FOX’s MLB pregame coverage and FS1 studio show MLB WHIPAROUND,” according to the press release. It doesn’t sound like he will be in the broadcast booth, does it? Sounds like a studio gig.

FOX owns a big chunk of the YES Network following the News Corp. deal a few years back, though it doesn’t sound like there will be any crossover work here. A-Rod will be on FOX and FOX Sports 1. Not YES. Lame. I assume Alex will continue his special advisor duties with the Yankees in the meantime. His agreement with the club called for him to remain in that role through the end of this year. Either way, A-Rod was really good on television the last two postseasons, and it was only a matter of time until some network scooped him up.

MLB approves wearable biometric device

For the first time MLB has approved a wearable on-field biometric device for players, reports Darren Rovell. The device, which is made by a company called WHOOP, is meant to be worn all day and night, and will record data on sleep, heart rate, recovery, strain, etc. It is not a mandated piece of equipment and teams can’t force their players to wear the WHOOP device. It is the player’s decision given the private data involved.

Clubs have been studying pitcher deliveries using biometrics for years now, though the WHOOP device extends beyond that. Teams are focusing more and more on rest and recovery, because nowadays having the most talent isn’t enough. You need the most talented players performing at their best as often as possible. Rest and recovery are part of that. The Yankees start their Spring Training workouts later in the morning to give players time to sleep in, plus they’ve looked for ways to improve travel in recent years too. I wonder how many players will wear the WHOOP device. It seems like the data could be really useful.

The White Sox are scouting the Yankees for a possible Jose Quintana trade, because of course they are

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees remain in the mix for White Sox southpaw Jose Quintana. Or at least the White Sox hope they do. According to George King, the ChiSox have been scouting the Yankees all throughout Spring Training in preparation for a potential Quintana trade. Bruce Levine recently reported the Yankees are one of four clubs “believed to be dug into the sweepstakes” for the left-hander. The Astros, Cardinals, and Pirates are the others.

“I think our asks are commensurate with what we are willing to give up,” said White Sox GM Rick Hahn to Joel Sherman. “We are open. We did deals with Boston and Washington, teams with World Series aspirations. Clubs like ours are focused more on the future and so if we are helping someone win in the short term, we have to feel they are helping us win in the long term.”

The Yankees have been connected to Quintana since December, when the ChiSox decided to commit to their rebuild by trading Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. At one point it was reported Quintana talks were expanded to include David Robertson. The White Sox, weirdly, haven’t done much of anything since the Sale and Eaton trades; Quintana, Robertson, Todd Frazier, Nate Jones, and Melky Cabrera remain in their employ. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. This passes the sniff test. Does it make sense the Yankees would want Quintana? Yes. He’s very good, he’ll spend the entire 2017 season at age 28, and he’s signed affordably for another four years ($35.35M total). Does it also make sense the White Sox identified the Yankees as a realistic trade partner for Quintana, so much so that they’re scouting them this spring? Yes! The Yankees have one of the best farm systems in baseball, with both the high-end talent to headline a big trade package and the depth to provide quality second, third, and fourth pieces. Trade rumors can be a tricky business with lots of nonsense. There’s something to this one though. It’s not outlandish.

2. The Yankees sure could use a pitcher like Quintana. Obvious statement is obvious. Every team could use a pitcher like Quintana. He’s really good! But, at the moment, the Yankees have very little established pitching under contract/team control beyond 2017. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia will both be free agents after the season and Masahiro Tanaka figures to use his opt-out if he stays healthy. Imagine a rotation without those guys. Oy vey.

The Yankees are committed to their youth movement, so much so that two of Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green will be in the rotation on Opening Day. And, as always, the odds are strongly in favor of all four of them (and possibly others!) making starts this year. No team goes through a season with five starters these days. With any luck, one or two or three of those guys will emerge as long-term rotation going forward. That’d be cool.

The thing is, even if that happens, there’s still room in the rotation for Quintana. It’s not Quintana or Severino, Quintana or Cessa, or anything like that. The Yankees can have all of ’em. There’s no such thing as a blocked pitching prospect. Quintana is right smack in the prime of his career and he’s signed well-below market. He’d fit in well with the youth movement and the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. It’s hard to find another starter who does both so well (and is actually available).

3. Don’t forget to trade your prospects. My stupid and long-running shtick is intended to serve as a reminder that putting all your eggs in the prospect basket is going to lead to a lot of heartbreak. They don’t all work out, that’s why it’s good and necessary to build a deep farm system like the Yankees have. If you’re going to sit on your prospects, you’ll inevitably be left with a lot of nothing. It’s okay to trade some of them. Consider the last two World Series:

  • 2016: The Cubs traded prospects for Aroldis Chapman and the Indians traded prospects for Andrew Miller. Cleveland also agreed to trade prospects for Jonathan Lucroy before he invoked his no-trade clause.
  • 2015: The Royals traded prospects for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. The Mets traded prospects for Yoenis Cespedes (and Addison Reed and Tyler Clippard).

Trading prospects for high-end veterans tends to look good for the team getting the veterans when it’s all said and done. (There are always exceptions, and hopefully the Chapman and Miller deals are two of ’em.)

Now, I’m not saying the Yankees should go out and gut their farm system by trading for every available veteran. I’m saying that when someone like Quintana comes along, a very good and young and affordable player who fills a glaring long-term need, it’s okay to deal from that prospect depth. The Yankees have the pieces to make a strong offer while still having an excellent farm system.

4. Yes, I am for trading for Quintana. I guess I should make that clear. I am totally for a Quintana trade. Just don’t ask me to put together a trade package. My trade proposal sucks. The White Sox smartly emphasized quality over quantity (and positional needs) in the Sale and Eaton trades, so I doubt this is a “cobble together four prospects you don’t like and send them to Chicago” situation. Getting a pitcher like Quintana is going to hurt.

Obviously some prospects are more tradeable than others. Trading Gleyber Torres would be tough to swallow and the good news is the Yankees presumably have the pieces to swing a Quintana deal without including Gleyber. Would a package led by, say, Clint Frazier and James Kaprielian be enough? Aaron Judge and Justus Sheffield? Jorge Mateo and Severino? It’s cool to have options and not just have to say “the trade needs to include this one specific guy because he’s the organization’s only elite prospect.” Point is, it’s okay to trade some prospects for a really good pitcher, especially when you have a lot of prospects.

Hot Stove Notes: Quintana, Lefty Reliever, Long-Term Deals

Quintana. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Quintana. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Seven weeks from today, the Yankees will open Grapefruit League play with a home game against the Phillies at the newly renovated George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Seven weeks sounds much closer than it actually is. Anyway, the Yankees still have some offseason business to handle. Here are the latest hot stove rumblings.

White Sox not budging on Quintana

Left-hander Jose Quintana is still with the White Sox and the team is not budging on their asking price, reports Ken Rosenthal. They want tippy top prospects. The Yankees are among the teams in the mix for Quintana, but Rosenthal says they’re less inclined to deal their top prospects. Other clubs like the Astros and Pirates are more willing to go for it because they’re closer to contention.

Early in the offseason Brian Cashman said he “would not recommend” the Yankees trade several top prospects for a high-end starter because they’re not one piece away from contention and need to build a young core. That was the logic behind passing on Chris Sale and that’s why they’re not gung-ho about Quintana. Maybe the extra year of control changes things, but it doesn’t seem so. That’s too bad. I really like Quintana. He’d be a wonderful addition.

Yankees still seeking lefty reliever

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are among the teams still in the market for a left-handed reliever. They’ve been looking for a lefty bullpen arm basically all offseason, so Heyman’s report isn’t coming out of nowhere. At the moment, New York’s lefty reliever depth chart looks like this:

  1. Aroldis Chapman
  2. Tommy Layne
  3. Chasen Shreve
  4. Richard Bleier
  5. Dietrich Enns
  6. Joe Mantiply
  7. Jason Gurka

Maybe flip Shreve and Bleier, but that’s it. Chapman is in his own little world as the closer — he won’t be used in a matchup situation in the seventh inning, for example — so the depth chart really starts with Layne. I’m not 100% convinced the Yankees need another lefty, but, if they’re determined to sign one, there are a few interesting free agents. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins are the best of the lot.

Yankees not focusing on short-term additions

After signing Matt Holliday, the Yankees are not willing to deal prospects for short-term upgrades, said Cashman during a recent MLB Network interview (video link). “We’re very protective of the work we’ve done thus far, and we don’t want to do anything at the expense of a short-term gain. We want to make sure it’s for long-term efforts as well. And as we’ve seen since last winter, the price of doing business trade-wise is extremely high,” said the GM.

This kinda circles back to Quintana, who is under control through 2020 and qualifies as a long-term buy. Would the Yankees like to have him? Of course. But they’re not willing to give up top prospects to get him. Chapman is now under control for five years (well, three because of the opt-out) but the Yankees only had to give up cash to get him. If they could get Quintana for just cash, they’d do it. Trading top prospects for anything short of an established young player with several years of cheap control was never going to happen this winter.

Reports: Yankees may or may not be expanding Quintana trade talks to include David Robertson

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Bob Nightengale, the Yankees have expanded their Jose Quintana trade talks with the White Sox to include David Robertson. They want Chicago to eat some of the $25M left on Robertson’s contract, however. Joel Sherman, meanwhile, says the Yanks aren’t working on a Quintana/Robertson trade. /shrugs

I’ve said pretty much all I have to say about Quintana at this point. He’s very good and signed cheap for another four years, so he fits right in with the rebuild transition. There aren’t many players I want the Yankees to trade top prospects to acquire. Quintana is one of them. The Robertson angle, assuming there is some truth to Nightengale’s report (a dubious assumption), adds a fun little wrinkle. Let’s dive in.

1. This passes the sniff test. The first question with any trade rumor: does it make sense? There are so many reports these days that it’s difficult to tell what’s legitimate and what’s nonsense planted by a team for leverage purposes. It gets overwhelming at times. Reporters write it all up because it’s their job and it makes for great #content, and fans eat it up. I get it.

Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and think about whether a rumor actually makes sense. Does adding Robertson to a potential Quintana trade pass the sniff test? Yes, I think it does. First and foremost, we know the Yankees love the idea of a super-bullpen. Also, they know Robertson from his time in New York and did claim him on trade waivers two years ago, so they’re willing to bring him back. (You don’t claim a high-priced player on trade waivers unless you’re willing to take on the money.)

That’s enough for me to believe there’s some legitimacy to this rumor. Does that mean the Yankees desperately want Robertson and are willing to pay big to get him back? Of course not. It just means they’re open to the idea. He fits their roster — as a good reliever, Robertson fits any roster — and their current team-building strategy, which is essentially “have the best bullpen possible to protect whatever leads the rest of the team manages to create.”

2. This past season was Robertson’s worst since 2010. The 2016 season was Robertson’s worst since before his breakout 2011 campaign in pinstripes. He had a 3.47 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 62.1 innings in 2016, and beyond that his strikeout rate (28.1%) was his lowest since 2010 and his walk rate (12.0%) was his highest since 2011. Robertson walked a lot of batters early in his career (12.2% from 2008-11) before cutting his walk rate to 7.2% from 2012-15. Was 2016 a one-year blip, or the return of the old Robertson?

PitchFX indicates Robertson’s raw stuff is relatively unchanged. His cutter has sat in the 92.3 mph to 92.8 mph average velocity range every year since 2012, and he’s getting more swings and misses with his curveball than ever before. From Brooks Baseball:

david-robertson-whiffs

The good news is the cutter/curveball combination Robertson worked with his past season was basically the same as three years ago. It would be a red flag had he lost velocity or hitters stopped swinging and missing at the curve. His issues in 2016, namely the decline in strikeouts and increase in walks, could be related to a mechanical issue. Or maybe crappy pitch-framing.

Either way, this year was Robertson’s worst season in quite some time and we can’t ignore that. He’ll turn 32 shortly after Opening Day, and while he’s never had any serious injury problems — Robertson has made at least 60 appearances and thrown at least 60 innings in each of the last seven seasons — he’s about to enter what are typically a player’s decline years. There’s risk here.

3. Robertson won’t lower the asking price for Quintana. Robertson is not a negative asset. The White Sox could trade him for actual prospects right now. They might not be top prospects like Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier, and Chicago might have to eat a couple bucks to facilitate a trade, but Robertson has value. Plenty of contending teams need bullpen help, and heck, with relievers now getting $16M+ a year, Robertson’s contract isn’t awful.

I know the first inclination is to think taking on Robertson would lower the cost for Quintana, but I can’t imagine that would actually be the case, especially if the Yankees insist the White Sox eat some money. (Presumably to lessen the 2018 luxury tax hit.) Chicago could trade Quintana and Robertson separately and land a bunch of prospects. Packaging them together shouldn’t equal fewer prospects. The Yankees might not be willing to trade, say, Torres and Frazier for Quintana alone. But if the deal is expanded to include Robertson, it could be easier to swallow.

(I’m not advocating trading Torres and Frazier for Quintana. I’m just throwing it out there for discussion purposes. Don’t bite my head off.)

4. Could adding Robertson lead to another reliever trade? We know the Yankees love the idea of a super-bullpen with multiple closer-caliber relievers. Robertson is not Andrew Miller, but he is better than most, and he’d slot into the eighth inning nicely between Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances to create that powerhouse seventh-eighth-ninth inning trio. (Robertson’s been a closer, which is why he gets the eighth over Betances. This is Joe Girardi we’re talking about here.)

That said, I can’t help but wonder if acquiring Robertson could lead to another reliever being dealt for prospects, like Betances or Tyler Clippard. There are a ton of contending teams in need of bullpen help. Off the top of my head, the Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, Giants, and Mariners could all use another setup reliever. Perhaps the Yankees would take a wait and see approach. Go into the season with the bullpen intact, see where they are come July, and if they’re out of the race, look to cash these guys in as trade chips like they did this year. They don’t have to rush into a trade.

Morosi: Yankees have interest in Jose Quintana

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

From the no duh department: the Yankees have some level of interest in White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, according to Jon Morosi. How serious is their interest? Who knows. Could be minimal, could be serious. The White Sox are very much in sell mode at the moment and Quintana is their top trade chip now that Chris Sale and Adam Eaton have been traded away.

Here is my Scouting The Market post on Quintana from earlier this month. The short version: he’s very good with a great contract, and there are no obvious reasons to believe his performance is about to decline. Every team in baseball wants Quintana in their rotation. Not every team has the wherewithal to acquire him though. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees definitely have the prospects to make the trade. The Yankees have a dynamite farm system right now, arguably the best in baseball, so they have the prospects to acquire Quintana. Heck, they could offer the White Sox a package of three top 100 prospects and still have no fewer than three top 100 guys left in the system. Does Chicago want outfielders? Shortstops? Pitchers? Whatever it is, the Yankees have it. The trade chips are there.

2. The Yankees should be open to trading prospects. I know the Yankees are in the middle of a youth movement and all these prospects are important to their long-term future, but they should not be averse to trading a few of them either. Not all these prospects are going to work out. That’s baseball. Some of them will end up having zero MLB value and the Yankees will regret not cashing them in as trade chips. The tricky part is figuring out which prospects are worth keeping and which should be traded.

3. The price is going to be very high. After the Sale and Eaton trades, White Sox GM Rick Hahn said he focused on acquiring the best talent possible and not filling specific needs. That’s what the Yankees did at the deadline and what every rebuilding team should do, really. Hahn traded Eaton for three pitching prospects even though he needs long-term second base and outfield help, for example.

Sale is the bigger name but his trade value shouldn’t be much higher than Quintana’s. Strip away their names and your preconceived notions of each, and they’re pretty damn similar. Check out their 2014-16 performances:

Ages IP ERA FIP bWAR fWAR
Pitcher A 25-27 609.1 3.03 2.96 +14.8 +16.6
Pitcher B 25-27 614.2 3.29 3.19 +12.6 +14.7

Pretty much indistinguishable. The difference between the two is +2 WAR across three seasons, which a) isn’t much at all, and b) doesn’t matter because you’re not acquiring the 2014-16 version of either pitcher. You’re getting the 2017 and beyond versions. Quintana, who is Pitcher B in the table, is under control one more year than Sale, which is pretty big.

Point is, the Yankees are smart to have interest in Quintana, even after letting him go for nothing as a minor league free agent however many years ago. If they want him though, it’s going to hurt. They’re going to have to give up multiple top prospects to add this guy to the rotation.

4. Quintana is exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees need. The Yankees have basically no established big league starters under control beyond 2017. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents next winter, and if Masahiro Tanaka is still around after next season, it means something went wrong and he didn’t opt-out. Maybe one of the kids will emerge as a reliable starter next summer. Maybe two will. That’d be cool.

Either way, the Yankees have a clear need for long-term rotation help, and when you put together a checklist for the type of pitcher they’d like to acquire, it probably looks something like this:

  1. Young
  2. Track record of excellence
  3. No injury history
  4. Affordable long-term contract
  5. Preferably left-handed for Yankee Stadium

That’s it, right? That’s the kind of pitcher the Yankees want to acquire. Well, Quintana is all of those things. He’s only 27, he’s never been hurt, he’s signed through 2020 for about what the Diamondbacks will pay Zack Greinke in 2017 alone, and he’s a southpaw with a history of success in the DH league.

The Yankees are probably hesitant to dip into their farm system and trade multiple top prospects for an established big leaguer, and I get it. But, if they’re going to make a move like that, Quintana is the type of player you do it for. He checks every box.

Scouting the Trade Market: Jose Quintana

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon, after days and weeks of rumors, the White Sox finally traded staff ace Chris Sale. He did not go to the Nationals, as long rumored. He instead went to the Red Sox for a four-prospect package that included infielder Yoan Moncada, arguably the best prospect in baseball. Pitchers of Sale’s caliber do not get traded very often. That deal was the definition of a blockbuster.

With Sale gone, it stands to reason the White Sox will continue tearing things down and start a full blown rebuild. It would be completely silly to trade Sale for four non-MLB pieces only to keep everyone else. The ChiSox fire sale has just begun, I assume, which means left-hander Jose Quintana should be on the trade block as well. The former Yankees’ farmhand may not be as good as Sale, but he’s really good overall, and he’s signed cheap too. The Yankees should have interest in Quintana and here’s why.

Background

Might as well start here. Yes, Quintana was once in the Yankees’ farm system. Before that he was actually in the Mets’ farm system. The other New York team signed Quintana out of Colombia back in 2006. He spent a few seasons in their farm system, failed a performance-enhancing drug test, then got released. The Yankees scooped him up and he spent 2008-11 in their system. The 2011 season was his breakout year: 2.91 ERA (3.15 FIP) in 102 innings with High-A Tampa.

Quintana was eligible for minor league free agency following that breakout 2011 season. The Yankees opted not to add him to their 40-man roster, and a few weeks later the White Sox signed him to a guaranteed Major League contract. Can’t blame Quintana for jumping at the 40-man roster spot. “We liked him. We didn’t love him. He was a performer, but not someone with ceiling,” said Brian Cashman to Mike Fitzpatrick this summer. D’oh!

“A very poised young man. Professional. He knew how to pitch and work both sides of the plate. Just a good-looking kid,” said Joe Siers, the White Sox scout who recommended Quintana, to Scott Merkin two years ago. “To be honest, I didn’t know he would be a No. 2 starter. I thought he had a chance to be a back-end, a fourth starter. I knew he was a guy who could get some innings. He commanded the ball and could pitch deep into games.”

Recent Performance

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Quintana, 28 in January, has been one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball since joining the White Sox. Over the last four seasons he has a 3.35 ERA (3.34 FIP) — his worst full season is a 3.51 ERA (3.82 FIP) back in 2013 — while throwing no fewer than 200 innings in any given year. According to both bWAR and fWAR, Quintana has been the seventh most valuable pitcher in baseball since 2013. Yeah.

Unlike Sale, Quintana is not going to blow hitters away and rack up big strikeout numbers. He’s not that type of pitcher. Quintana did have nice strikeout (21.6%) and walk (6.0%) numbers this summer — neither his ground ball (40.4%) nor home run (0.95 HR/9) rates were great — and he excels at keeping hitters off balance and generating weak contact. His average exit velocity on balls hit in the air these last two years is 89.6 mph, 11th lowest in baseball. So while Quintana’s ground ball rate isn’t stellar, he’s not giving up loud contact in the air either.

We have over 800 innings of data telling us Quintana is a very good Major League pitcher, one who has had success in a hitter friendly home ballpark in the DH league. He’s also done it despite having some shaky pitch-framers behind the plate. (Basically every catcher the White Sox have employed other than Tyler Flowers since 2013.) As long as he stays healthy, there is every reason to believe Quintana will be effective for the foreseeable future. Nothing is trending the wrong way.

Present Stuff

When Quintana first got to Chicago, longtime White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper helped him get to the next level by teaching him a cutter. Cooper has been teaching that cutter for decades now. Interestingly enough, Quintana has phased out the cut fastball and replaced it with a sinker over the last three seasons. He operates with a four-seamer, sinker, curveball, and changeup these days. From Brooks Baseball:

jose-quintana-pitch-selection

That’s a really nice mix. Quintana uses three pitches each more than 20% of the time, and his changeup rate hangs around 10% as well. He’s not a guy who leans on, say, his sinker and curveball, and uses the straight four-seamer and changeup as show-me pitches. Quintana is a true four-pitch pitcher, and he still has the cutter in his back pocket as well. Here’s some gory math (MLB averages for left-handed pitchers in parenthesis):

Average Velocity Swing-and-Miss Rate Ground Ball Rate
Four-seamer 92.6 (92.3) 8.3% (6.9%) 32.0% (37.9%)
Sinker 92.5 (91.0) 6.1% (5.4%) 50.0% (49.5%)
Curveball 78.0 (77.5) 11.7% (11.1%) 38.8% (48.7%)
Changeup 86.7 (83.3) 7.3% (14.9%) 47.2% (47.8%)

Those are 2016 numbers, the most recent season and the best indicator of who Quintana is right now. Again, nothing jumps out at you. The velocity is basically average to a tick above, there’s no dominant swing-and-miss pitch, and there’s no dominant ground ball pitch either. And yet, it works. Quintana’s command is a huge part of his success. So is his deception. Check out his release points from this past season, via Brooks Baseball:

jose-quintana-release-pointEverything is nice and tight together. It all overlaps. A lot of times you’ll see the pitcher has a different release point for his breaking ball — usually slightly higher than the fastball for a curveball, and slightly lower for a slider — but not with Quintana. All five pitches come out from the same spot. By time the hitter can tell the pitches apart as they approach the plate, it’s already too late. He’s had to start his swing. Quintana’s command and deception make up for his lack of overwhelming velocity and a dominant pitch. He makes it work.

Let’s look at some video. Reading about pitches and staring at a pitch selection chart only does so much. Let’s see Quintana in action. Here’s a 2016 highlight video — reminder: everyone looks like an ace in a highlight video — in which we get to see all five pitches in action:

Beautiful. Nice fluid delivery, fastballs to both sides of the plate, a willingness to pitch inside, a curveball that looks like a strike until it drops out of the zone … it’s easy to understand why Quintana is so successful. To quote my favorite cliche: he’s a pitcher, not a thrower.

The Yankees seem to have a type. They like pitchers with big fastballs and wipeout breaking balls, and hey, that stuff is cool. Their most successful pitchers this past season, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, are quite the opposite though. They succeeded with command and pitchability, which happen to be Quintana’s two best traits. I would really like to see the Yankees get away from the huge stuff/bad command profile a bit, and Quintana would be a step in that direction.

Injury History

Easy: none. Quintana has never been on the disabled list or had any kind of noteworthy injury, Majors or minors. He had a start pushed back four days after taking a comebacker to the shin during Spring Training in 2013. That is the entirety of Quintana’s injury history.

Contract Status

The White Sox smartly inked Quintana to a five-year contract extension three seasons ago. The deal guaranteed him a mere $21M, which is a pittance compared to what he could have made through arbitration given his success. Can’t blame him for taking the guaranteed payday though. Anyway, here is the remainder of Quintana’s contract:

  • 2017: $6M
  • 2018: $8.35M
  • 2019: $10.5M club option ($1M buyout)
  • 2020: $10.5M club option ($1M buyout)

Assuming the options are picked up — unless Quintana suffers a catastrophic injury or develops the yips, they will be exercised, for sure — Quintana is owed $35.35M over the next four seasons. These days No. 1 starters are getting north of $30M per season. Quintana is a borderline ace and he’s owed roughly that through 2020. Pretty great contract, eh? Very luxury tax friendly given his production.

Trade Benchmarks

These are always tough to come up with but they are important. Our trade proposals suck, they really do, so it’s good to provide some context. You’re not going to get Quintana for the team’s best prospect you don’t like plus threes randos off the bottom of the 40-man roster, you know? Here are some pitchers recently traded when they were three or four years away from free agency, like Quintana.

  • Gio Gonzalez: One top 50-100 prospect (Derek Norris) and three top 15 org prospects (A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone).
  • Wade Miley: Two young arms with five years of control (Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster) and one top 30 org prospect (Raymel Flores).
  • Shelby Miller (four years of control): One year of an above-average big leaguer (Jason Heyward).
  • Shelby Miller (three years of control): One top 20 prospect (Dansby Swanson), one top 75 prospect (Aaron Blair), and five years of an average or better big leaguer (Ender Inciarte).
  • Chris Sale: One top five prospect (Yoan Moncada), one top 50 prospect (Michael Kopech), a top ten org prospect (Luis Basabe), and a top 30 org prospect (Victor Diaz).

I almost didn’t include the second Shelby Miller trade because it was so ridiculous, but you know what? It happened and it changed the market. All of a sudden every team with a good young pitcher raised their asking price. I know I would have done the same.

Of the four pitchers (five trades) listed above, I think the one closest to Quintana would be Sale. I really do. It’s four years of control vs. three years of control, but Quintana has been consistently above-average for four years running now. Gonzalez and Miley each had two good years at the time of their trades. Miller had two good years the second time he was traded. The difference in track record is pretty substantial.

Also, supply and demand, yo. The demand for pitching is high, as always, but the supply is very short. There are no good free agent starters left, and realistically, how many pitchers as good as Quintana are available in trades? There’s Chris Archer and Sonny Gray, and that’s about it. We could use the Gio trade or the Shelby trade as a benchmark, but ultimately, the marketplace is different. Quintana won’t come cheap. I know that much.

So What About The Yankees?

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

I don’t think it will happen, but it needs to be said anyway: the Yankees can’t let their history with Quintana get in the way of a potential deal. They screwed up five years ago. No doubt about it. They can’t let their pride get in the way of a deal. The Yankees would get mocked for trading top prospects for a guy they gave away a few years ago, but whatever. Own it, move on, and improve the team.

Okay, so anyway the Yankees have both a need for a long-term rotation help and the prospect wherewithal to swing a trade for a pitcher like Quintana. He has yet to turn 28 and he comes with four years of contractual control, so when all those shiny prospects are ready to start winning big league games, Quintana figures to still be in the prime of his career. That’s pretty cool. An over-30 star wouldn’t jibe with this roster. But a 27-year-old? Oh sure.

Whether the Yankees should dip into that farm system to get Quintana is a valid question. He won’t come cheap. The White Sox got two top 50 caliber prospects for Sale and I’m guessing they’ll want the same — or something close to it — for Quintana, plus other stuff. The Yankees would be starting a package with, say, Clint Frazier and Jorge Mateo. Or Aaron Judge and James Kaprielian. Ouch.

Jon Heyman hears “nobody’s sacred” with the White Sox, meaning they’re ready to trade everyone following the Sale deal. Quintana really does make a lot of sense for the Yankees — I mean, pitchers this good make sense for every team — and that fourth year of control is huge. If the Yankees aren’t a bonafide contender by year four, something has gone terribly wrong. Ideally you’re semi-contending by year two, you know?

I don’t have any problem with the Yankees trading good prospects for above-average big leaguers in their 20s with long-term control. It helps speed up the rebuilding transitioning process, at least in theory, and it allows them recoup value from prospects. Hanging on to every last prospect equals a lot of wasted opportunity. Some are most valuable as trade chips. Depending on the price, Quintana is maybe the best pitching target available to the Yankees this year, and I think they should pursue him pretty aggressively. Put that dynamite farm system to work.

Mailbag: Jose Quintana

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Travis asks: Why did the Yankees let Jose Quintana walk after 2011? He is having a nice year to date with the Chicago White Sox.

Quintana, 23, has pitched to a 1.53 ERA (3.18 FIP) in five starts and two relief appearances (35.1 IP) for the ChiSox this year after pitching to a 2.91 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 102 IP for High-A Tampa last season. As we learned last August, he started his career in the Mets’ farm system before being released — following a PED-related suspension — and hooking on with the Bombers. There’s a good chance the Yankees will get a look at him when the Sox come to town for four games late next week.

Joel Sherman wrote about Quintana today (great timing, eh?) and the team’s decision to let him leave as a minor league free agent after last season…

…the Yankees did not put Quintana on the 40-man roster, making him a free agent. GM Brian Cashman said they deliberated on the matter and, despite a dearth of quality lefties in the system, “We looked at him as a fringy prospect. We offered him a minor league contract to stay, but not a 40-man roster position. We didn’t feel he was ahead of other guys we gave spots to. It was a numbers game, but right now it does not look like a good decision.”

Quintana’s agent hunted around for a 40-man roster spot and found a taker in Chicago. Quintana made nine starts in Double-A before coming up for good when John Danks hit the disabled list. He’s excelled at limiting walks (1.53 BB/9 and 4.5 BB%) and homers (0.51 HR/9) but he hasn’t racked up many strikeouts (5.09 K/9 and 15.0 K%) or ground balls (40.4%). Quintana uses his upper-80s fastball and mid-80s slider heavily but will also mix in the occasional upper-70s curveball and on the rarest of occasions, a mid-80s changeup. Sherman spoke to a scout who had a little more to offer…

A scout for an NL team who saw two of his major league starts reported a good fastball that Quintana cuts and sinks, but worried there was no clear swing-and-miss pitch, and also that the southpaw had a bad pickoff move and was slow to the plate, making him susceptible to stolen bases.

It’s worth noting that White Sox pitching Don Cooper is the best in the business, with a long track record of turning mediocre arms into solid starting pitchers if not more. Guys like Esteban Loaiza, Gavin Floyd, and Phil Humber owe a great deal of their MLB success to Cooper. Who knows what he did with Quintana to lead to this success, if anything.

The Yankees protected two pitchers — David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell — from the Rule 5 Draft last offseason (as well as three position players) but they were still left with an open 40-man spot and theoretically had room for Quintana. Whether or not the southpaw’s success is sustainable given his lack of strikeouts and grounders — of if he’d even have this success without Cooper — is worth debating, but the obvious it would be nice if the Yankees had him in their farm system right now. They goofed, it happens.