Cubs have nothing to regret as Quintana delivers on crosstown swap

CHICAGO -- It's one of those conversations that Chicago baseball fans will be having for years to come: Did the White Sox rip off the Cubs in stealing prospect phenom Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease or did the Cubs come out on the better end in grabbing steady lefty Jose Quintana?

Common thinking on sports talk radio and bars around Chicago is that the Sox will reap the benefits for years to come, as Jimenez looks like a once-in-a-generation player. But here's the thing: The Cubs are receiving the benefits right now, and their window for winning is in the present.

"These last two [starts] are a different level of Q," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Quintana after the team's 3-0 home win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. "They know the fastball is coming, and it's still getting on them."

Quintana came up with the biggest win to date this season for the team he has played on since July 2017, following years of pitching for the non-contending White Sox. Quintana threw 6⅔ innings, giving up just three hits and no runs on Tuesday. It lowered his ERA to less than 4.00 for the first time since July 22 and his pitching line as a Cub to 20-12 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.24 WHIP

He's pitching his best baseball exactly when his team needs it most. The win kept the Brewers from tying the Cubs for first place in the National League Central. It was that big.

"There is a very confident look about him," Maddon said. "He's a very humble man, so you have to really look in there."

Maddon is right. There isn't a lot of flair to Quintana's game -- which could be the opposite to that of Jimenez, who hit .355 with a .597 slugging percentage at Triple-A this season. Jimenez already has penned a Player's Tribune article, and he might very well be destined for greatness at the major league level.

But when the Cubs traded for Quintana, they had a big need in their rotation. No matter what Jimenez or Cease accomplish, no one can take away what Quintana already has meant to the Cubs. He might very well contribute to two postseason appearances with his new team before those two prospects even sniff the majors. That's no small thing. In fact, that's everything.

"I don't worry about the trade," Quintana said as he put on his shoes after Tuesday's game. "If I do good or bad, I try to be focused on my job."

That doesn't mean he's not aware of the enormity of it. After all, the Cubs and White Sox pulling off a midseason blockbuster isn't exactly an annual occurrence.

"I know how huge that trade was," Quintana said. "For sure, I want to do well."

It's a topic mostly because of two things -- how good Jimenez looks and because Quintana hasn't been as consistent as he was with the White Sox. Until now at least. But the Cubs knew what they were trading away when they made the deal. And they knew getting Quintana at a cut rate -- he's making just $8.85 million this year -- was part of the allure. Plus, his contract has team-friendly options for the next two seasons after this one.

The bottom line is that without the deal, who knows where the Cubs would be on the mound now. It's not like they were developing starting pitchers at every turn. Even with Quintana, they signed a half-dozen free-agent arms last winter.

"To be honest, we never look at that stuff," Cubs teammate Pedro Strop said of the trade. "We don't waste our time. We try to have fun and play our game."

The critics will point to several bad Quintana outings, such as his back-to-back starts in August when he gave up a total of 10 earned runs. But since then, he has given up just six runs in his past five appearances, including none on Tuesday. The trade might have paid for itself right there. The Cubs desperately needed what Quintana has provided.

"I'm trying to do the best," Quintana stated. "Like I said, I know how huge that trade was. I hope he [Jimenez] does good, but I'm happy to be here."

The next step would be pitching well in the playoffs, if the Cubs get that far. Things didn't go his way last October, as he gave up eight runs in seven innings, leading to more questions about the trade. Perhaps he will silence the naysayers once and for all this postseason.

Quintana was asked if he hears the debate about the trade, including some of the negative comments directed his way.

"I try not to read the news," he said with a smile. "I can go to bed happy that way."